Abstract: The Art of Design. Netflix documentary provides insight into design, one episode on autos

2017 Dodge Viper. Image courtesy FCA

2017 Dodge Viper. Image courtesy FCA

Did you ever wonder how design decisions are made when it comes to styling new cars?

The art of automotive design has always intrigued me.

How is it that some automotive companies and their in-house designers can produce cars that are not only beautiful when they first hit the showroom floor, but continue to be beautiful for decades afterwards?

The cars that grabbed my teenage, testosterone-addled and easily influenced brain were cars like the 1965 Ford Mustang GT fastback, 1969 Alfa Romeo GTV and 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28.

Netflix recently added a documentary to its eclectic collection of documentaries, Abstract:  The Art of Design.  This series has 8 episodes, one of which is Ralph Gilles:  Automotive Design.

Gilles, who grew up in Montreal, is now Fiat Chrysler’s Global Head of Design.  He’s a bona fide ‘car guy’ who dropped out of engineering school and opted to follow the art school route for entry into the auto industry.  Not only is he one of the world’s most influential people in car design, he’s a driver.  The documentary shows him doing track days in a Viper, and if you follow the multi-day on road rally Targa Newfoundland, you know he has competed in that too.

The one hour episode on Gilles is fascinating, as the camera follows him in meetings with FCA’s new car design teams.  (I’m a process guy, so how project teams actually work in large organizations is something that intrigues me.)  Gilles is shown meeting with design teams as they reveal to him for the first time a new concept.  Gilles seems respectful of the the emotions designers have attached to their ‘babies’, and is gentle, yet clear about design elements he likes.  For design elements he dislikes, he states that clearly.  In one meeting, he says specifically he dislikes the wheel design and wants that changed, but for items, he comes across as a coach, suggesting different shapes or the team consider reshaping for a different ‘feel.’

Abstract:  The Art of Design is now showing on Netlfix.  The episode Ralph Gilles:  Automotive Design provides unique insight into the little known world of automotive industrial art.  Highly recommended.

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