Life by Design

Professor Gerry McGovern, OBE, on how at Land Rover, it is all about the collaboration of Design leadership with Engineering integrity

Jun 16, 2020 RACHNA TYAGI No Comments

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Professor Gerry McGovern, Design Director & Chief Creative Officer, Land Rover, was conferred with the title of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen of England, for his invaluable contribution to the field of Automotive Design, over the last four decades. From having designed the Range Rover Evoque to the Range Rover Velar to the Discovery Sport and most recently, the much talked about, Land Rover Defender, he sure doesn't seem to be in any mood to slow down. In this interview, he tells TURN OF SPEED, how it is vital that Design set the vision while being defined and guided by a design stategy and architecture, with support from creative Engineering.

TOS: Tell us about the epic changes that Land Rover Design has seen over the years?

GM: Land Rover started in 1948 and over the course of those seven decades it has evolved from a specialist manufacturer of 4X4’s to the creators of the world’s leading luxury SUV’s. Our founders Maurice and Spencer Wilks were responsible for the inspiration and concept work that led to the development of the first Land Rover off-road utility vehicle which was based on an engineering led approach. For the next sixty years this approach of product development creating the overall vehicle concept and then Design overlaying the exterior and interior forms was the norm. That all changed when TATA bought Jaguar Land Rover in 2008. One of the first things that Mr Tata did was to elevate the importance of Design, making it an equal partner with Engineering. This transformed our business and our fortunes with the soon to be launched Range Rover Evoque (2012). Since then, Design has set the vision and led the creation of a whole new generation of vehicles up to and including the recently launched New Land Rover Defender. I have also elevated the importance of Colour and Materials, consequently, in Design, we now have equality between the key disciplines of Exterior, Interior and Colour and Materials. Three areas of expertise that allow us to truly create compelling, characterful vehicles.

TOS:  Describe to us the challenges faced in terms of designing only SUVs.

GM: The creative and development process of designing an SUV is no different than any other vehicle category. I’ve been fortunate enough to run studios designing sedans, sport cars and of course luxury SUV’s. The big differentiator is the brand DNA and how design and engineering work together. The other key differentiator is having Design set the vision. In some companies engineering set the basic parameters of a vehicle – its wheelbase, firewall, seating, powertrain and then Design are asked to make it look good. For me, this is too late to make something truly compelling and desirable. As Land Rover have moved from a specialist 4X4 manufacturer to a manufacturer of luxury/premium SUV’s, that changes how you fundamentally create a vehicle. Design has to set the vision, defined and guided by a design strategy and architecture, and supported by creative engineering.

TOS: What makes Auto Design a distinctive craft?

GM: I guess vehicle design has always had a mystique about it. Designing a vehicle is an incredibly complex process that is reliant on a multi-disciplined approach. What we do is highly specialised and takes many years to learn. I’m a Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art in London, arguably the world’s top Automotive Design college. I’m often asked what makes a good designer. My advice hasn’t changed from my early days – keep practicing and developing your skills, honing your craft. There is no short cut! You also need to have a thorough understanding of all the other disciplines such as engineering, manufacturing, etc, that design depends on to bring a vehicle from concept to reality. 

As a Chief Creative Officer at Land Rover I’m also responsible for the overall direction of our image, through photography, film, and the written word. As a car designer it is important that we have consistency in how we communicate a vehicle we’ve spent five years developing.

TOS: Could you throw some light on the difficulties of marrying Design and Engineering? Surely, there may have been many famous tiffs between both the departments at Land Rover. Who wins at the end?

GM: For us at Land Rover, our biggest asset is the intrinsic collaboration between two creative forces – Design leadership and Engineering integrity. In any other environment those two disciplines would be very polarising, but for us it has to work in order to deliver the very best vehicles for our customers. I work very closely with my opposite number in Engineering (Nick Rogers) and whilst we may have our creative differences, we fundamentally respect each other expertise. I wouldn’t tell Nick how to engineer a suspension arm and he wouldn’t tell me how to shape a vehicle. Ultimately, Nick and I have to align in order to deliver a vehicle on time and on budget which takes a great deal of creative intellect. Ultimately, it’s about creating the right balance with well-considered decision making. I want our vehicles to be well designed and well-engineered. It’s all about creative collaboration.



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