Interview for MD Magazine, Bulgaria

Car Designer Interview - Miroslav Dimitrov

Q: After a successful career in some of the biggest automotive companies, you now have your own design studio. Who are your customers? What projects are you working on? Could you please tell us briefly about the most interesting projects of recent years?

A: When I worked as a car designer in the studios of the big automotive companies, I often felt like another cog in the big machine, whose contribution to the final product was minimal for a number of reasons. It’s different now; my clients include companies and individuals, some not even in the automotive business. In the several years since I have been completely independent, I’ve had the pleasure and rare opportunity to work on projects ranging from concept cars, go-karts, electric scooters, lighting fixtures, limited edition boutique cars, high-performance sports cars, bodykits, restomods, electric cars, medical furniture, and nanosatellites. The work is varied, with each project posing its own unique challenges. Unfortunately, as with major studios, not every promising project sees the light of day. One of the most interesting projects was for the Bulgarian company EnduroSat, a world leader in nanosatellite technology. I never imagined that I would be working on a product destined for space, but it turned out that even in this industry, dictated entirely by space science and engineering, there is room to contribute.

Q: What moment in your life and what event was decisive for your future successful career as an automotive designer?

A: There are moments in a person’s life when decisive choices are made, and sometimes it’s impossible to know whether those choices will lead to success – this clarity often comes after years. Back in 1997, at the age of 13, I decided to turn my passion into a profession, and everything seemed unattainable, let alone a successful end. In those years and specific circumstances (considering that at that time, a monthly salary in Bulgaria was 100-200 Euros, and overseas exotic jobs seemed not only a daydream but extremely naïve and impractical), considering my qualities and skills, the only realistic option for realization seemed to be architecture. But my late elementary school drawing teacher, Stoyan Dichev, could not accept that path for me. He believed I had too much talent to be fully utilized as an architect. He argued that one should follow their dreams and not waste their God-given gift – in my case, my talent – but use it for its intended purpose. He took a small group of us to the Art School in Kazanlak, where the basics of industrial design are studied – for me, it was one step closer to my still absurd dream. Years later, I realized his pivotal role in my life and how his refusal to let me waste my talent charted my path. Everything afterward was the struggle of a child from Yambol to achieve his dream. The road was difficult and unclear, but the direction was set. I am deeply grateful to him and will pass on this precious life lesson to the next generation.

Q: How do design teams work at major automotive companies? Do they have big teams with lots of designers? Is there competition between designers? Who decides which proposal is to be the winning design? How long does it take to develop a new model?

A: Most car manufacturers have their own design studios, and some even more than one. The need for more than one studio comes from developing products for the local and specific market as well as competing with other studios within the company to win a project. Teams vary greatly in terms of organization, number of people, and even activity. Let’s say a studio of 100 people is average in size and there are no more than 20 designers in it. The rest of the team are clay modelers, 3D CAD modelers and visualisers, engineers, modelers and some administration. But there are also large studios with over 200-300 people working together in one building or several buildings.

Yes, competition is not only there, but it is ruthless. Let’s not forget that we, who come from countries where such professions are not practiced, have to compete not only locally (England, Italy, France, Germany, USA, Japan, etc.) but globally, with everyone who aspires to prove themselves or join a particular company.

I’d love to say that the best solutions are chosen based on the merits of the design itself or what’s best for the product/company, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In theory, several designers compete for their proposal to be selected and developed by the team, but this is rarely the reality. As anywhere else, internal politics and intrigues play a significant role in deciding whose design moves forward. Ultimately, the design director of a studio is responsible for the studio’s output and its success. It’s also their responsibility to defend their team’s work to the company’s management. I’ve witnessed many instances where design directors yielded to pressure from senior management, resulting in products with numerous compromises that the company later regretted. The larger the company, the more convoluted these decisions become

The development time for a model varies depending on whether it’s a concept car, a facelift, or a new model. A concept car can take an average of 6-12 months, while a production car typically takes around 18-36 months. Every new model you see on the road was completed at least a year earlier, and its first sketch was made at least 3 years prior!

Q: How are consumer trends and opinions researched?

A: It is crucial for manufacturing companies to thoroughly understand and position their products in the market. Often, company objectives do not align with reality, leading to products that lack competitiveness, regardless of the marketing investment. Each project and design process should start with understanding the target consumers and the product’s function, emphasizing the importance of market research. Human psychology shows that asking 1000 people will yield 1000 opinions, and car design does not adhere to this approach. During certain stages of design development, car companies conduct “clinics” where individuals matching the target customer profile review multiple solutions and provide feedback. I personally doubt the effectiveness of this process, and an industry joke comes to mind: “What is a camel? Answer: a horse designed by a committee.” Designers are forward-thinking innovators; therefore, studies and statistics are based on existing knowledge or what’s known to people.

What is the most important feature when designing a new car today, in the 21st century?

A: I wish I could provide a single-word answer, but due to the product’s complexity and its indispensable role in our daily lives, it’s challenging to offer a concise response. Certainly, a modern car must be reliable, technologically advanced, environmentally friendly, and aligned with consumers’ lifestyles. However, it’s crucial to remember that cars in the 21st century are still used by humans. For instance, an interior solely featuring a tablet in the vehicle’s center is not only sterile but also impractical and lacks ergonomic design.

How do new technologies affect car design?

A: Regarding their influence on the work process, I can say that things have become more fast-paced. New technologies don’t inherently make us better designers; in fact, examining cars from the golden era of design in the 60s and 70s illustrates this point clearly.

However, when considering their impact on the final product, it’s a different story. Although new technologies sometimes interfere and create limitations (such as sensors, safety regulations, and more complex hardpoints), the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. A closer look at modern automotive headlights reveals how much technology shapes the end result. Similarly, in interiors, advancements in infotainment systems and CMF (colors, materials & finishes) have made significant strides in less than a decade. Simultaneously, the rise of electric cars and their construction, notably the skateboard platform, introduce possibilities that were previously non-existent

Q: What is more important for the success of a new vehicle model – impressive technical parameters or the emotional impact of the design?

A: It varies, sometimes both are essential. Consider Tesla as an example where, to put it mildly, design takes a backseat. In this market segment, we’re dealing with products featuring groundbreaking technologies that hold a specific purpose and market position, yet emotional purchase considerations, particularly with Tesla, are notably absent. Conversely, boutique sports car manufacturers prioritize factors like acceleration from 0-100km/h or horsepower, but these aren’t the sole drivers behind a customer’s decision – emotional elements play a significant role as well.

Q: How do you see the vehicles of the future being developed?

A: The evolution of cars as products and their application directly correlates with people’s lives, and these dynamics are subject to the global situation. We’re currently witnessing substantial geopolitical shifts and alterations in the world order, significantly impacting energy sources and subsequently altering our lifestyle. This will inevitably shape the automotive sector and determine the future of cars. Despite the European Union’s autocratic pressure for a complete shift to electric cars, EVs alone don’t provide the sole and ultimate solution for addressing pollution and CO2 emissions. Numerous promising technologies, such as hydrogen or synthetic fuels, hold tremendous potential. While vehicles will always be necessary, the choice of energy source will be pivotal. Equally critical is whether people will embrace change in their vehicle preferences, considering factors like living conditions, the need for autonomous driving, infrastructure availability, and more. We live in a highly dynamic world, making it immensely challenging to predict the exact form and features of future cars. However, one certainty remains: personal transportation will persist, though the extent and form it will take are uncertain

Q: How would you complete the sentence: “Good design is…”

A: It’s an amalgamation of numerous solutions, tasks, and challenges crafted into an aesthetically pleasing form for the end consumer. Unlike art, where the goal is often self-satisfaction, design involves creating a product that fulfills diverse requirements… and ideally contribute with something of yourself.

Q: How do you perceive the future of design?

A: Speaking realistically, our profession emerged during the industrial revolution, driven by the need to enhance and innovate the products surrounding us. Presently, design pervades a significant part of our daily lives, even reaching those unrelated to the field on a subconscious level. Design has become an integral aspect of modern life, and irrespective of future directions, it will hold a central position in various forms and dimensions of our lives.

This is the full version of the interview for: НАЧАЛО – – порталът на инфоманиаците

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