McLaren design boss’ mantra was born on the track

The 570S was one of the first cars designed under Melville?s direction.

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Rob Melville took over as design director last year at McLaren Automotive, the British manufacturer of supercars with a deep racing history. Melville, 40, received a master’s degree in transport design at the Royal College of Art in London. Before joining McLaren in 2009, he worked at Jaguar Land Rover as well as General Motors. At both stops, the British designer worked in advanced design focusing on future concepts, strategy and platform development. McLaren recently added a second design studio to better handle the increased volume of projects thanks to Track 22, the automaker’s product plan from 2016 that calls for 15 new models or derivatives through 2022. Melville spoke with Staff Reporter Jack Walsworth.

Q:  When it comes to McLaren’s Track 22 business plan, how much of a challenge is it knowing you have 11 more designs to go by a set time period?

A:  I don’t get to go home so often.

The good thing for me is, I’m already much further into it. I’m already at car eight or nine. I’m at the halfway point. With every car we do, we have such great conceptual thinking around the product, it just feels like the best new project to be on.

I look forward every day to coming into work, being with the team, working with the other disciplines within the company and just continuing to learn and challenging each other. Every day is full of pressure as well. We have to deliver the cars and we are a small team. But having 15 cars to do is not a problem.

How big is the design team at McLaren?

We are fairly small. We have 11 designers. We have five color and material designers, a team of around 10 clay modelists, two visualizers who make animations and two operations people. When you include the cast team as well, you’re looking at around the 40 people mark. But typically, there can be up to 50 or 60 people in the studio.

What was the first McLaren designed under your direction?

That would be 570S and GT.

Rob Melville, seen here alongside a McLaren 720S, became the automaker’s design director last year.

What are some of your design principles?

Our mission statement is to create breath-taking products that tell a visual story of their function. The idea of this statement is that when you look at a car, you understand how it works. To me, that is about design communication — being able to make a connection with the customer, the person who’s viewing, the user.

Great design tells a great story. That’s my personal mantra. I read it somewhere and it just stuck with me. That’s the mission with all of our products and cars. How we do that, the design pillars that we work with, is “everything for a reason.” The origins of that pillar are from the racing car division. If your product is born on the track, there’s no excess. Everything has justified its place on the vehicle. It improves your performance, it improves the car’s performance, and at the same time, it looks great, it looks interesting.

McLaren P1 Bahrain

Where do you pull inspiration from?

It’s very easy for a designer to go on the Internet and look at the same websites as all the other designers, pick up the same magazines as all the other designers, or go to the same car shows, and then go back to your desk expecting to do something fresh and different. I enjoy that stuff and I do it for context. But for me, the real thing is go try some new food. Go walk around retail shops in London. Go to an art gallery. Listen to some crazy music you actually think you probably hate but you give it a chance, or stop and ask people what they do.

Does it add pressure when a new model is announced and then sells out before the people who bought it have even seen it?

It does, because you always think, “What’s the reaction going to be?” I’ve got pretty thick skin now that I believe so strongly in what we do. Even if I read negative comments, I always think “Give them time. They’ll come around.” And sure enough, that pretty much happens every time. The fact that they’re sold out before just shows the trust that customers have in us as a company. They believe and trust us to create great products, interesting products that are pushing the boundaries and really disrupting the rest of the automotive industry. We’re not following the rules, we’re breaking the rules. We’re being brave and we’re confident about what we’re doing.

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