Richardson, who has sidelined his passion for furniture design in favour of fast cars, spoke with Curve Editor, Belinda Stening, about inspiration, teamwork and mentors.
Can you tell me how you started work on the R7 project ?
The R7 project started in mid June 2001. We already had an armature set up for the clay model, but the groundwork needed starting. As I sketched we started to ‘clay-up’ the armature and get it ready. The timeframe was very tight so there was lots of overlap. You usually have a couple of weeks before-hand to mull over things…
So how did you start ?
I did lots of drawings and renderings and looked at different products that were coming out in the marketplace. You look at the competitors but don’t let it influence you too much… so that cars don’t all look the same… they still do often end up looking very similar.
Where did you get your inspiration from ?
Right at the start, before I even started sketching, I did some image boards. This is fairly common practice in the studio. You look for things that portray the character you are creating, not necessarily forms, but you find things that portray the surface language you are looking for.
For example, on a particular wrist watch there might be a surface that comes up and intersects with another one. You might really like the cleanliness of it or you use it as a visual aid. I’ve always got what I want in mind first, it’s sort of just a way of backing it up.
I had a few products that I really liked, one was a compact disc player, a couple of years old now, that was very rugged looking. It looked like you could drop it on the ground and never break it. The operation of it was quite neat too, it had this clam shell opening. It was meant for hiking or running.
Another was a mountain bike which had a beautiful aluminium frame with soft sections that intersected at the top. The way the graphics were stamped into it and the technical features of the brake calipers… it was an example of a beautiful and refined piece of machinery.
The last product I kept in mind was a rucksack for hiking. It gave you the feeling you could go anywhere and pack anything in it. The design showed beautiful attention to detail. It is really inspiring to see how other designers incorporate such detail.
How did you interpret market research data and use this to guide the concept development ?
We worked closely with marketing, our data is Australian based as the US market is very different. Being a designer… usually your gut feel is pretty accurate so you tend to rely on your gut feel as well as the numbers and figures. It’s good when your instinct is proven by the figures.
Did you attend formal brainstorm sessions during early concept development?
No, not on this project, although we usually do.
How many people are in the studio at any given time?
It’s really starting to boom in the studio at the moment. We have a team of ten designers, twenty to thirty modellers and a computer aided design (CAD) support or surfacing group. We all work together in the studio, the CAD office is next door. The surfacing group pass their work on to them.
What design tools do you use ? Do you use basic sketching or CAD?
I use CAD in the early development process, where every surface is so important. Automotive forms are so complex and you need to be very rigorous with the correct flow of high-lights through the vehicle. You have to make sure everything is perfect, get all of your lead ins right onto radii. It can be mind bending sometimes.
If I use CAD right up front before I give direction to modellers, at least then I know in my mind how all the surfaces are going to interact. It’s the easiest way for me. Otherwise you irritate the modellers if they have to change everything if you are not happy with it.
Besides, I like to feel comfortable in giving direction and that’s where it works best for me.
So, in overview, designers and modellers are working together?
Yes, and there is a big milling machine in the studio used on the clay model. So you have machinery and modellers and designers working together. The communication is great.
I can look across from one side of the studio to the other and in between are all the clay models, so you are really close to what you are working on.
Seven years is a long time to be in one place. How has Ford assisted you in developing your design management skills?
It has taken a long time. I’ve only just started to master it over the last two years… maybe! We’ve been fortunate to have chief designers who have been really knowledgeable about surface and how it all goes together – Steve Park, Scott Strong, and now Simon Butterworth. They have been really able to show how it’s done and allow us to take it a little bit further every time.
Simon Butterworth and Graham Wadsworth (Exterior Design Manager), left me alone to work on the R7 project and allowed me to be responsible for the direction of the modellers through my sketches. Simon and Graham would watch over me and suggest directions and guide the operation.