With the award winning designs that have been emerging out of Detroit in recent years, do automotive designers have a predetermined “shelf life” that impairs their potential as they advance in age? Automotive News decided to answer this question and the results they have uncovered may surprise you.
The publication spoke with Cadillac exterior designer Bob Boniface to hear his thoughts on this subject. AN also used 45-year-old GM International Design President Brian Nesbitt as an example, who now spends more time overseeing projects rather than picking up the sketchbook.
Nesbitt first emerged at Chrysler in the 1990s, and was responsible for the retro themed lines of the PT Cruiser. After this initial success, Nesbitt took his services to General Motors, contributing to the design of the seventh generation Malibu sedan, Pontiac Solstice, as well as the PT Cruiser-rivaling Chevrolet HHR wagon. Eventually, Nesbitt assumed the role as the leader of the GMIO design office in 2011.
Meanwhile, Boniface made his debut at Chrysler initially as a young designer before eventually becoming the company’s Advance Product Design Studio Chief. He was responsible for penning the 1996 Dodge Intrepid ESX Hybrid Concept, as well as the 2001 Jeep Liberty SUV. These days, Boniface primarily plays the role of coach at Cadillac, but at times also sees himself as an understudy to his young colleagues.
Even though the two designers had relatively different beginnings in the industry, they now share one thing in common and that’s letting their young understudies tackle the majority of the design work.
“I still sketch,” Boniface claims. “I don’t pin my work up on the wall simply because I can’t compete with these [younger guys], and I am out of practice. But when I kick off a program with designers I make sure I go back to my desk with some Xerox paper and a ballpoint pen and I make sure I sketch, too, so I can understand some of the issues and roadblocks that the designers are running into.”
This recent trend can be mainly attributed to the young designers being able to easily master the latest design tools and technology. This gives them an edge over more seasoned designers that may not have the same level of expertise, and were trained with older methods that were in place before the recent explosion in computer technology. While the notion of a “shelf life” for designers appears to be true to a degree, it still does not impact the ability of an older designer to nurture and motivate a younger counterpart. This is important since these young minds play a key role in shaping the future of a car company.