Impressive new Design Centre for Jaguar Cars provides inside peek
Provided with an exclusive ‘behind closed doors’ appreciation of one of our nation’s important car brands, Iain Robertson agrees that the right creative environment is essential to its ongoing development and survival in an increasingly challenging scene.
Not normally accessible to motoring journalists, the design studios of various carmakers are strictly off-limits. Protected by an array of security measures, not least the inimitable ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’ that must be signed up-front and rears its ugly head at every juncture, the manufacturers have a responsibility to protect their creative properties from potential ‘theft’, while enhancing a competitive advantage.
The last time I was given a tour of a normally ‘secret’ carmaker’s department was when Ian Callum, Jaguar Cars’ former design chief, invited me to Whitley, Coventry, when he had just received the final sign-off of the truly beautiful XK8 model. To be granted a similar privilege by Julian Thomson, who has replaced Mr Callum as the firm’s design director, is something to be relished.
Of course, with Jaguar’s (and, to a lesser extent, Land Rover’s) much publicised financial issues of just a year ago, which demanded that its Indian conglomerate owner bail it out from a potential overtrading situation, it would be fair to question a new design department development, which was notionally in the throes of being signed-off around the same time. However, some business aspects are better being progressed, rather than mothballed for the future. It is abundantly clear that Mr Callum, a man not unknown for getting his way, wanted a bricks and mortar (well, steel RSJs and wood panelling) aspect to his legacy at Jaguar Cars, as he was due to retire earlier this year.
The entirely new facility is based at Gaydon, south of Coventry, in a cathedral-like building that is high on technology, while offering space (normally at a genuine premium) and clarity that encourages creative thinking, all within a single, uncluttered environment that is a viable showpiece for the brand. The ‘Heart Space’, a collaborative hub at the centre of the new Jaguar Design Studio, will bring together the diverse and creative talents of a 280-strong team, as it designs future generations of Jaguars. This does seem like an especially high employee count, notably because of its largely wasteful and pie-in-the-sky future concepts that emerged during Ian Callum’s reign, but Julian Thomson should be like a new broom within the new building, as long as he does not adopt the ‘not my money’ ethos that has been evident at Jaguar ever since it was returned to private from state ownership.
Surrounding the Heart Space are bespoke working environments for the Interior, Exterior and Colour and Materials teams, plus Design Visualisation and Design Technical disciplines. Jaguar Design is made up of designers from across the globe and from a range of industry backgrounds, including fashion, watchmaking, sports and gaming. Being drawn from such diversity helps the team deliver its ‘Jaguar’ interpretation of Britishness using contemporary materials and processes, which utilise industry-leading technology, including custom-made clay modelling machines that allow 20 models to be worked on simultaneously. Virtual reality (VR) systems and an 11.0-metre 4K digital display wall known as ‘The Electric’ are features. The floor area of the new Jaguar Design Studio measures over 12,000m2, an increase of over a third of the total previous studio spaces based at Whitley.
To a certain extent, it would be apposite were Jaguar Cars to design future models that possessed some traditional British craftmanship values. Employing an international and enthusiastic team of personnel should help with both insider and external market views of ‘Britishness’. However, embodying the confusion of modern Britain within its products is perhaps something that should be relegated to the scrap heap. Tradition has a valuable role to play in Jaguar’s future and a return-to-form would be a giant step in the right direction, in the process removing the comfortable design tardiness of the Callum era. Personally, I believe that Mr Thomson can effect the changes needed.
The main studios are named Studio 3 and Studio 4, taking inspiration from the numbers of the Le Mans-winning Jaguar D-types of 1957 and 1956 respectively, as well as paying homage to studios 1 and 2 at Whitley, the home of Jaguar Design from 1985. The naming approach continues to the meeting rooms, with some named after iconic Jaguar models and the others taking their names from important people in Jaguar history, including founder Sir William Lyons, designer Geoff Lawson and the actor Steve McQueen. In some respects, this is an ethos perpetrated by the BBC, when it redeveloped Broadcasting House, in the centre of London, a few years ago.
They contain a total of ten clay modelling plates, each measuring 20-metres long and capable of accommodating two clays, with a load capacity of 4.5-tonnes. However practical, clay is not a lightweight medium for the modellers to work with. For the first time, designers can now place interior and exterior models alongside each other, to improve collaboration between the two disciplines. The plates also feature floor-integrated lifts for the clay models. These provide continuous height adjustment, enabling the most ergonomic working positions for the Jaguar modellers. The studios are fully temperature controlled to ensure that the clay remains in the ideal, workable state for the 46-strong team of sculptors, while lighting is provided at exactly the right brightness and colour temperature for optimal vision.
The new facility also features an outdoor, natural light visualisation platform, which is vital for assessing light play on surfaces. It also means that photographic records can be created against a neutral concrete background, all of which contributes to more comprehensive design ethics, with a potential to increase consumer appeal and desirability.
Conclusion: Jaguar Cars has always been a small sporting brand possessing a reputation that is significantly grander. This exciting new creative facility should help the Indian-funded company to aim higher in the future, one that is fraught with changes, some more dramatic than others.