Roland Barthes suggested that cars were the modern day equivalent of Gothic Cathedrals, “the Supreme creation of an era. Conceived with passion by unknown artists”. That's still true to this day. While fashion designers and architects have become household names and outright superstars, car designers are little known, often lost in the cloak of their brand’s identity. Of all the names that the average non-car nerd may have heard of, three are most likely to stand out: Patrick le Quement, Chris Bangle, and J Mays. So with le Quement retiring after 22 years as head of Renault design, and Bangle recently leaving BMW under unclear circumstances, this leaves Mays as arguably the most publicly recognisable car designer in the world right now.
Calm and unassuming in person, you’d never know that Mays was responsible for the design direction of (and for the hundreds of designers behind) Ford’s various brands and nameplates. Up until recently of course, this not only included Ford, Lincoln and Mercury - but Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin too. This led Mays to describe his job as being “about a mile wide and an inch deep.” But with PAG disbanded, and Volvo about to follow Jag, LR and Aston out of the Ford stable door, Mays seems pleased that his job is becoming “an inch wide and a mile deep.”
Clearly, he’s got more time to focus on making Ford’s core products stellar once again (recent cars such as the Flex and Taurus suggest this is already happening), along with giving under-nourished Lincoln and Mercury some love too. It’s the Lincoln C concept – unveiled at Detroit’s NAIAS in January 2009 - that we were primarily in town to talk to him about. Yet while that car is well worth a closer look, it’s the bigger issues facing the car industry and the world of car design that we really wanted his views on.
So here, Mays - the man behind VW's famous Concept One and Audi's influential Avus – who now also acts as Ford’s Chief Creative Officer, gives his views on a whole host of design subjects. From why the computer is today’s hotrod, to how he believes Ford is leading the way in user research, and why the skill-set of tomorrow’s car designer might need to be quite different to that of today’s.
As Ford moves forwards with its ‘One Ford’ strategy, it’s likely that many of the things you see from the brand will have been touched by the hand of Mays. So watch the video at the top of the article, to get an insight into how the future of the blue oval might look…
Full transcript follows, link to full unedited interview at bottom of the transcript>>