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Retired Ford Design Chief Says Brand Identity, Emotional Connection Are Important As Ever

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It’s been nearly half-a-decade since former Ford Vice President of Global Design J. Mays retired from his post at the end of 2013, but with few exceptions, he says, the current crop of Ford products was designed under his watch. (Those exceptions include the latest Ford Fiesta, the Ford GT supercar, and several Lincoln models.)

“I’m pretty sure my influence is still being felt there. We worked very hard not only on creativity but on process, to get to the right sequencing of how an automobile gets designed,” Mays told Automotive News in a recent interview.

“If you’ve got a finite number of hours or days to design a car,” he explained, “you really don’t want to spend 80 percent of the time trying to be creative and 20 percent of the time trying to execute. You want to do it completely the opposite way. I was adamant that you want to have an idea and design locked down tightly 20 percent into the process, so you can spend the next 80 percent executing like a laser — with a microscope — to get the quality that you want.”

Today, Mays is a visiting professor at the Royal College of Art in London, in addition to having a design consultancy and advising the motion picture industry. He says that even as we march toward an autonomous future, he still teaches that brand identity is important.

“If you don’t understand brand you’ll never be able to design a good car, because you won’t be able to place that car into something that’s true to the brand, meaningful to the customer or differentiated from the competition,” he said. “The challenge for students coming into the industry these days, particularly if they’re going to concentrate on autonomous vehicles, is that they understand that there still has to be an emotional connection there, but that connection is not tied to testosterone like it once was.”

That said, Mays feels that even today, there are automakers – especially German ones – that could be doing a better job forging a brand identity. “With the exception of Porsche,” he said, German carmakers aren’t designing cars that look distinctly German.

He was particularly harsh toward Mercedes-Benz, saying: “I could not tell you what Mercedes is doing, but it’s not German.”

The remedy? “A quieter design language and continuity from one model to the next, not only throughout the lineup but from generation to generation.”

For the full interview, visit Automotive News.

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Written by Aaron Brzozowski

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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