The future is design: A conversation with Car Design News, part 1

5 min read

Ananda Arasu and I spent some time with James McLachlan, Editor for Car Design News. We talked through a wide range of pressing issues, including sustainability, customer demand, the CDN Review Book and more.

Listen here for Part 1 of our conversation, scroll down for more detail and images, and stay tuned for Part 2.

What is Car Design News?

Car Design News (CDN) is considered the leading online resource for automotive designers. It publishes written, visual and video content about global automotive and mobility design from multiple data outlets.

Founded in 1999 by Brett Patterson, CDN offers reports on major design schools and their degree shows, covers motor show trends, new car launches, and publishes designer interviews and studio tours. It also has a car design job section, regularly updated so designers can keep an eye on the job market and its opportunities.

Its current headlines include pieces such as:

Exclusive Pininfarina of America tour

Experience is the future for Peugeot design

GAC reveals Aion Hyper GT interior

You can subscribe for full digital access or print and digital access, as well as multi-user access.

Who is James McLachlan?

James has been the editor at CDN since September 2020.

Interestingly, he didn’t come from automotive or industrial design; his background is architectural design. His previous experience includes serving as Editor for The Architect’s Journal and for Icon magazine.

We know sustainability is a important conversation right now. What does that look like for the automotive industry?

This is a big shift for automotive industry—the internal combustion engine has been the primary modern propulsion system. You could almost read the history of the 20th century through the automobile and the combustion engine.

But it’s become impossible to ignore the climate crisis, and design directors are taking this seriously.

Some of the biggest conversations are around electrification – but even that has its complications. Mining for cobalt, for example (a major component of electric batteries), is a dangerous and carbon-intensive process. Nonetheless, a shift to electric vehicles is good for air quality in the long run.

The other big conversation happening is around materials and sustainability. There’s this idea that you can achieve a 0 footprint on a particular material or product by careful management of supply chain and sourcing. But this is a huge task, and it will take both time and money. This is an entire recalibration of an industry. We are right now at the beginning of a very interesting and challenging process.

What are customers looking for when it comes to sustainability?

There’s a new breed of customer that’s quite keen on sustainable food, ethical fashion, etc. We’re seeing that come into automotive.

It’s an opportunity to redefine luxury, really. Often the people who can afford to make ethical consumer choices are the ones who can afford it. So that’s prompted some interesting conversations about what luxury is, what it might be. Sustainable materials are, after all, hard to scale and quite expensive.

If the understanding of luxury changes to something more sustainable, it may change the rules of the game.

A good example of this is the Range Rover Mark 5.

Not only is it electric, it offers alternative materials to the traditional animal hide and wood that typically adorn luxury interiors.

Which brings us to the Car Design Review book…

Car Design Review is a stunning hardback printed book that typically covers 12 months—although issue 9 covers 18 months (to compensate for the effect the pandemic had on car launches and shows).

The book features the best concept and production cars of the year, as voted on by a selection of the world’s best automotive designers.

It includes:

Articles are also available online, but there’s no comparison between the print version and its digital twin.

2023 will see the 10th edition, which offers CDN a chance to give a “state of the nation” on the car design landscape. It will document the top 10 concept and production cars of the year.

Breaking with tradition in design review…

CDN‘s break with tradition begins, really, with the fact that it’s first and primarily a printed book. In this digital medial landscape, that’s really unconventional.

James particularly enjoys going to a design studio and seeing the issues lined up on the bookshelf, with post-its for reference points.

The other break with tradition is in the rules for the judging panel. They’re all design directors voting on the top cars—but they’re not allowed to vote on their own car. This opens up discussion and consideration on design review: the judges may even end up voting for a rival’s car ,and those results are published.

And those decisions matter. Because it’s peer-reviewed, being featured in the Car Design Review is a huge honor. Interviewing SangYup Lee, Head of Hyundai Global Design, in issue 8 emphasized this: he’d been obsessing about winning production car of the year since our first issue—and this year he’d done it.

SangYup Lee, Head of Hyundai Global Design

He was very pleased to see his work valued not only internally and in sales, but by his peers, people whose opinions he had a deep respect for.

If you want to know what happened, what mattered that year in the world of automotive, go to the relevant Car Design Review book. It’s the journal of record.

How can I get an issue of Car Design Review?

You can order it from the Car Design Review site. Issues 8 and 9 are £99. The older issues are a bit lower, ranging from £50 to £95.

Issue 4, Car Design Review

What’s ahead for issue 10?

There will definitely be a retrospective, looking back over the last 10 years. There’s a lot to celebrate.

There have been so many changes and challenges in the car industry, and this issue will explore some of them, like AI.

The top 10 cars won’t just be for 2023; it will cover the whole decade. But this issue of Car Design Review won’t just reprint 10 cars you’ve seen before. You can expect something new and interesting.

And there’s the special Lifetime Achievement Award, where CDN has an intensive interview with a legacy designer. Last year’s winner, Patrick le Quément, gave an electrifying speech at the ceremony, and it’s another cause for celebration.

“What’s important is not to become king,
but to build a kingdom.”

Patrick le Quément

The automotive industry has this incredible lineage of designers and incredible minds who have applied their trade and craft over the years.

Next up in part 2 …

James discusses the situation for student designers, as well as how VR and collaboration tools have become so integral to the industry.

Stay tuned.

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