Design masterclass: From a sketch to a full-fledged Tata Motors car
Pratap Bose, vice president, global design, Tata Motors, took time out during the lockdown, to join editor Sirish Chandran on the #evoConversations on Instagram, to share insights on design, specifically on careers in automotive design for those who aren’t trained in car design.
He highlights the fact that you don’t need a design degree or a background in design to join this field. Narrowing it down to eight topics, Bose says the journey from a sketch to the actual concept car involves people from multiple backgrounds including, even, cost accounting and program management and he encourages people of different fields including mechanical engineering, textile design, graphic design and accounts to look at careers in car design.
Below are the various facets of design, in bite-sized chunks for easy understanding:
This is an integral part of the design process. It starts when you get a brief from the marketing team and the product planning team to start work and development on a new product. The first thing to be done is creating a package that defines the physical outlines of the product.
The marketing department may just say once that it’s an SUV but you have to define it in terms of size and what market it will slot into. Many times studio engineers are mechanical engineers who learn in the body design department and tend to be more on the creative side but mainly have an engineering background. It is where the raw engineering drawings are created from which, designers pick up and overlay their sketches, which is the part most people see. What they don’t see and what the studio engineers keep an eye out for are the starting points — the engine layout, wheel size options, boot space and the occupant layout. This is also the place where the basic car architecture of the product begins and a package is finalised that everybody in the organisation is happy with.
Design Process Management
Design is a multi-disciplinary exercise and all of the fields — sketching, Computer Aided Styling (CAS), studio engineering, colour and materials — have to work together within the automotive design studio.
This whole stream of design process management, has to interface with the other departments in the company, including engineering. This point is where project costs come into play, such as parts costs, investment into research and development, and timeline management.
A typical candidate for this is usually sourced from a management, accounts or finance background, as they are responsible for project timing, keeping an eye on project cost and overall management delivery of the entire project.
A good clay model can save a bad design says Bose. That's how important the clay modelling phase is in the entire design process. Clay modellers are basically sculptors who can turn a 2D design into a 3D form that the management can touch and feel, giving them a sense of scale as a whole. It is a very highly underrated part of the development of a new product.
Traditionally, the modellers have a background in pattern making, pottery or even sculpting. It is for anyone who likes to work with their hands and create something physical; it is an art form in itself. Formal education is not a necessity but it’s more the skill level and talent that counts in this field.
Computer Aided Styling or CAS is an integral part of the process, as once you finish the previously mentioned areas (the initial sketches, packaging and clay modelling) you now get into the nitty-gritty of actually trying to come up with a definite definition of the entire product in terms of how you can share the design with the engineering departments. CAS is the bridge between both departments. It is done after scanning the entire clay model mock-up and converting it into a digital database. It also aids in providing feasibility checks. For example, it shows whether the visibility is good (or if the windscreen is wide enough) and is a process where all the checks and balances can take place.
For this you just need to do a course in 3D modelling and know how to churn out digital models.
This phase in the design process is used to help out other departments such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), senior management team, and marketing department, who may not have a background in design and may need to be convinced about the final design of the product. This is where the 3D CAS model comes to life in terms of where surfaces and visual elements such as paint finishes, glass, other materials like steel/plastic textures and other aesthetics are added to make the digital renders stand out and look realistic.
Here designers collect feedback after other departments in the organisation see these renders. Folks who would want to join this department would need skills in the Autodesk’s VRED software used to create these virtual prototypes. Also, people from the animation industry or digital artists who have any skills in computer-aided rendering can find a career in this field.
Colour and material design
It is a fundamental part of the design process and it is when the product is actually made. As most people will see the product in its visual form (usually on social media) before they actually go and see its physical form, this is a very important part of design. It is here where the teams select the tactile elements and materials like fabrics, metals and plastics are sourced. Other choices are made for the materials to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.
For this department, you usually need to have a background in textile design or in some cases, a fashion design background.
Perceived Design Quality
It is the point where the fit, finish and quality of the product gets decided upon, and is one of the most important phases in the design process. It is also where the components that make up a particular part of the product have to come together and look uniform.
The process of perceived quality also looks at all the shunt lines, and all the gaps in places like the tailgate, doors and the hood, to see whether everything is uniform and aligned as per design specifications. It is very important in terms of the interiors of the product and it is where even dashboards, surfaces and finishes are decided. So along with proficiency in software such as Alias and Catia (CAS design tools), you also need to have a crystal clear vision of how a finished product should look.
Colour production design
Colour and design production is where you have to get the colour right on the different surfaces of the car. Whether
it is the plastic bumper or the steel body, the colour has to match and has to be consistent all around. It is an unseen but integral part of this process. Mastering colour is a vital challenge for any OEM as it has to layout these colour patterns and samples for the entire supply chain, and managing this is an integral part of the product development cycle.
People in this department are also responsible for the research and development of the various materials and colours, and the final factory integration of getting the paint finish right, on the product, on the shop floor. Generally, these people have to be trained in courses with detailed in-depth colour design as a subject, such as graphic design, architecture or fashion design.