A stunning new feature-length documentary, Chasing Perfect, reveals the untold story of Frank Stephenson, the man behind some of the world’s most iconic car designs. Responsible for the shape of the MINI, Fiat 500, Ferrari FXX, McLaren P1 and more, Stephenson reveals the inspiration and meticulous creative process behind each, giving viewers a unique insight into his quest for ‘perfect’ design. We were lucky enough to ask the great man a few questions about design.
What dictates the design of a vehicle?
The design of a vehicle is dictated by quite a few restraints and boundaries, enough to make it a real challenge to produce something both nice and different. The basic engine layout and seating package define the starting point of the creative process. Then the target customer and the brand’s unique identity add a more precise design direction. This is followed by the rules of legislation for the different design elements and the vehicle’s end cost. Mixing these factors together gives the framework for the designer to create within it a successful solution.
What constitutes bad vehicle design?
Bad vehicle design is constituted by the end product’s poor public reception and poor sales. It costs much more to badly design something than to design it well. A badly designed product, at the end of the day, is a sales disaster and impacts negatively on every aspect of a company, be it on image, reputation, financials or credibility. To achieve bad design a designer must not take into account some of the rules of good design. First and foremost is knowing the market and target customer. This takes research, a lot of it. A satisfied and repeat customer is the objective and if the design misses this bulls-eye, it’s a failed opportunity. Next, good design has to exude the “I want it” factor, not the “I need it” factor. It should stimulate a positive emotional reaction to the potential buyer. Our favourite purchases are those made with our heart. Love at first sight and desire are powerful ingredients to define good design, creating an emotional and visceral experience, a sort of ecstasy. At the same time, good design has certain qualities – it’s honest, timeless and enduring, potentially iconic. Bad design achieves none of those.
What is the distinction between design and engineering?
The distinction between design and engineering is the same as between imagining a piece of new music and creating it. Both sides are creative and require innovative thinking patterns. Designers envision things that don’t exist, they are the dreamers and they tend to refute established boundaries and limits. Engineers are the creators, they find ways to turn those dreams into reality. Designers and engineers are symbiotic, they need each other as a means to an end but the mental wiring is different with each approach.
Which of your designs do you use every day?
The design that I use everyday (when I’m home) is my man chair, aka lounge chair. It’s my go-to piece at the end of most days. It’s a one-off design that I sketched out and had custom made. It’s on the expensive side but it’s definitely paid itself back many times over with its sleep-inducing levels of comfort, the creative thinking time it provides and obviously there’s the aesthetic satisfaction I get from it.
Are your designs like children, there are no favourites?
I’d say no, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I do have favourites but the typical characteristic of a designer is never being completely satisfied with the result of their own work. So even the favourites could still use some additional refinements!
How important is design to our everyday lives?
Design is important to our everyday lives because it’s a grand way to improve our existence and deliver something useful to the world. it allows us to evolve fresh, novel and meaningful ways that transform the things that define our lives. Good design uplifts us physically and spiritually, it nurtures our wellbeing – it brings goodness into our world.
Which car design to you most admire?
The car design that I most admire is the Jaguar E-Type Series 1 Coupe. For me it’s the epitome of perfect proportions, sensual styling, correct levels of performance, unique character…I could go on and on. I think it’s enough to say that it never stops giving me goosebumps…it’s a timeless beauty that will never lose its aura of instant lust and lasting admiration.
Is a design ever finished, can it always be improved?
If a designer ever views a design as finished, he’s not really a designer. It would mean that he has no idea how to make it better. In that case he should probably put away his design instruments and retire.
What do you want viewers of chasing perfect to take away from the film?
I hope Chasing Perfect serves as a tool to inspire, guide and nurture the creative spirit in others and that it stimulates young minds to see the value of pulling out all the stops to make what lights your fire your true purpose in life.
Tell us about your involvement with Lilium Aviation?
I’m the Creative Director for Lilium Aviation and my responsibility is to set the bar high with the design of our new eVTOL jet for this new type of mobility.
Chasing Perfect will be released in the UK on digital download from May 20th and is available on DVD from May 27th