My passion for car design began at the age of 3, with requests to my mother not to go to play on the swings, but to sit in my push chair by the road, so I could study the cars passing by. I've been a student of car design, and detail design execution ever since.
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Product Design Visualisation at Bournemouth University in the UK. The course focused on the principles of good design and its ability to improve our lives, in combination with the fundamentals of mechanical engineering that allow designs to come to life. It was a great foundation for my career in Perceived Quality.
As part of my product design degree, I had the opportunity to do a 1-year undergraduate internship at Aston Martin. At that time, the company was in the early development stages of the V8 Vantage.
Aston Martin was part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group at the time, along with Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo. The group was keen to compete with brands such as Volkswagen and Audi, which were deemed to have higher showroom appeal and perceived quality than equivalent Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Ford products. I was introduced to the principles and practices of craftsmanship (Ford's preferred term for perceived quality), and had the chance to coordinate craftsmanship activities with Jaguar as part of my internship.
Upon my graduation in 2002, Aston Martin invited me back for a full-time position to lead the company's craftsmanship initiative.
The first task for any company trying to improve showroom appeal and perceived quality is to define exactly what it is, and what it is not. This can be specific to each company, and especially so for a company like Aston Martin, operating in the high luxury automotive sector. As part of the design team, I set out to define the key tenets of Craftsmanship, derived from the study of premium furniture, clothing, architecture, consumer electronics, and other luxury goods. I distilled these insights into key principles which I rolled out to CEO Ulrich Bez and the board of directors. Over time, these key principles and the language of craftsmanship became widespread in the company. Craftsmanship was no longer just a term that applied to hand-manufacture, and its measure was no longer simply the consistent dimensions of panel gaps. Craftsmanship became about elegant, clean design treatments. It became about well-tuned haptic controls and evident attention to detail. It became about solidity of feel, sound, and appearance.
With a tight budget and lean headcount, I developed specially tailored processes for Aston Martin, designed to deliver improved showroom appeal and high levels of perceived quality. Park a V8 Vantage or DB9 next to a previous generation Aston Martin product such as the Vanquish or DB7, and the strides in perceived quality are evident, the result of hard work from a dedicated, talented team. The cars were incredibly successful, leading to new production records for Aston Martin, and ensuring the future of this historic and revered brand.
At the request of CEO Ulrich Bez, I presented the V8 Vantage craftsmanship vision and strategy at Aston Martin's World Dealer Conference in London, and again at the Interior Motives conference in Berlin. It was an honor to represent Aston Martin in these forums, in front of audiences from around the world.
15 years after they were designed, the DB9 and V8 Vantage have aged well. Due to the design principles of simplicity and elegance, the cars have maintained a timeless appeal. They were a turning point for the company, and I'm proud to have been part of this incredibly talented team, and to have played a key part in delivering great perceived quality for these soon-to-be classic cars.
Photos: Aston Martin
In 2008, I joined Ford as a perceived quality consultant at their Asia Pacific design and development headquarters in Melbourne, Australia. I moved to broaden my experience in high-volume, low-cost car design for developed and developing markets, as well as to experience international travel and to work and live in Australia.
My first project at Ford was the Figo, a budget b-category hatchback designed for sale in India, South Africa, and Brazil. The Figo project was a fantastic learning experience that helped me develop new skills: achieving high levels of perceived quality without expensive materials, designing for developing market tastes and demands, and working with a global design and development team.
Low price and high value were incredibly important for the Figo to be successful. For Ford to make this car affordable, many of the components such as the roof, bodyside, doors, glazing, etc. were carried over from the outgoing European Ford Fiesta, avoiding costly new tooling. The scope of the project was to redesign the remaining exterior and interior components, making them cheaper and more tailored to developing market demands. This was a tough brief: to design a car with better levels of perceived quality, and at a lower cost, with limited new tooling.
Working closely with the design and engineering teams, we strived to take out every cent we could, without degrading the customer experience, whilst improving the design execution through creative solutions. For example, the door trims, instrument panel, and console were all significantly simpler in construction, but with increased design appeal, better functionality, and improved levels of perceived quality. The car launched to universal acclaim, attaining segment-leading levels of perceived quality and increasing Ford's market share in important developing markets.
Another project where I was the Craftsmanship lead at Ford was the Chinese market Taurus. The goal for this project was to increase market share in the important and highly profitable large sedan segment in China, an area of the market that Ford had previously not been successful.
This project had some unique challenges and considerations. Firstly, unlike in Europe and North America, the buyers of large sedan cars in China typically travel in the second row, being driven by a chauffeur. Accordingly, the second row needed to have an overtly premium look and feel, a different philosophy than Ford was used to. Secondly, the Chinese consumer in this segment is particularly astute, seeking out areas of cost-cutting and poor craftsmanship in unusual areas (e.g. the top of footwells and trunk areas) when purchasing a vehicle. Thirdly, customers in this market prefer more highly decorated and embellished designs than customers in Western markets.
This was one of Ford's most global projects. The car was designed in Detroit; engineered in Detroit, Melbourne and Nanjing; and manufactured in Nanjing, by a Chinese joint venture. I split my time across all three sites.
In China, I worked with the product development team, understanding the market demands to set up a detailed product brief and specification in relation to Craftsmanship. In Detroit, I led the craftsmanship benchmarking activities. I worked with the design studio to ensure that the material and finish content was sufficient for the product to be a leader in this area, especially for the critical second row. In Melbourne, I worked with the engineering team to identify and resolve craftsmanship issues and optimize the design execution.
The Figo, Taurus, and Everest, whilst not as glamorous as projects at Aston Martin, are products that I am proud of. The programs taught me about the challenges of designing affordable products with high levels of perceived quality. I developed a greater understanding of customer demands in international and developing markets. Furthermore, I gained an understanding of the cultural nuances of working with and influencing international teams, who were often less familiar with the concept and importance of perceived quality. The international travel around the Asia Pacific region was a wonderful perk to this interesting and challenging part of my career.
I joined Tesla in 2013 to be part of one of the most innovative, creative design teams in the world, bringing compelling, and beautifully crafted electric vehicles to the mass-market.
All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any other entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.