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In the design world, we can't stay with a solution that we've always had, it's always about finding a better way because there's competition out there, you know, it's a dog eat dog world out there. If you can't find a way to adapt and to change, to find the solution for a new for any problem, then you're going to fall behind. So it's all about staying relevant to the to the problem at hand. Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and you're listening to the Knowledge Project, a podcast dedicated to mastering the best what other people have already figured out.
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Today I'm talking with legendary automobile designer Frank Stephenson. Frank is known all around the world for his designs. You've probably seen them. They range from mass consumer cars like the Mini and the Fiat 500 to the extremely limited runs numbering in the hundreds of the McLaren P1.
We're going to talk, design, creativity and the future of cars and this amazing conversation. It's time to listen and learn. The Knowledge Project is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab has helped some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day. You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and many more Medlab ones to bring their unique design philosophy to your project.
Let them take your brainstorm and turn it into the next billion dollar app from ideas sketched on the back of a napkin to a final ship product. Check them out at Medlab Dutko. That's Metal Abaco. And when you get in touch, tell them Shane sent you. This episode is brought to you by mud. What is masala chai based coffee alternative that improves your focus the for medicinal mushrooms that are in but give you all the benefits of coffee. But avoid the dreaded caffeine crash if you have trouble sleeping at night or can't remember the last time you drank chai.
Mud is your new morning ritual instead of coffee. We drink this stuff everyday at the office and everyone who stops by raves about it. I mean, what's not to love? It tastes like chai and chocolate. If you want to give it a try, go to midwater dotcom and enter the code furnham at the checkout for ten dollars. That's MWD. W.T. are dotcom and enter the code furnham. Frank, I'm so happy to get to talk to you today.
I'm pretty excited to be here. Thanks for having me today. One of the interesting stories I came across when I was doing research on you is you're in the top ten in the world from motocross racing. And I think it was your dad who told you this is the last race for you when you're twenty or twenty three, what happened?
Nothing much happened. That's probably the the the problem I had I was doing well. I mean, it's all relative. I guess I'd done it really well from when I started right off the bat. I'd been pretty successful and came up through the ranks that you have to go through to get to that level, that professional level. I came through those pretty successfully and pretty quickly. And so it wasn't a struggle on my side, you know, to to to go through years of fighting and really trying hard to get to the top.
It was felt almost pretty natural.
And so I wasn't really, you know, super super crazed, super inspired or super happy to be at that level in the way that when you reach that level, it almost seemed like a natural thing for me to to arrive to. The problem was and it wasn't a problem for me. It was when you're racing, it's just fun to do it that I'd reached a level where I probably wasn't going to go any higher. I mean, being a professional is is pretty high in anybody's book.
But the problem was I wasn't at the very, very top where I was on the podium every every weekend or finishing up in the top three. I was basically you're you're you're in the ten range of writing on that world class level. So that could be seen as pretty, pretty good and a pretty high level. But at the same time, from my father's point of view, it wasn't ever going to make a huge difference to my my life or to my career.
And he was always pushing that I you know, you not even third would have been enough for second for him. It was always, you know, you either look at being at the very top or try something else.
So do that reason that I was pretty much never finished in the top three, I was he didn't tell me to do it, but he advised me that you're probably going to be better off if you start looking for a different direction in life, something where you can be or could be the best at what you do. And it wasn't just doing something else. It was always coming from him that what you do, you want to be the best at it.
So before you get stuck in a rut or a dead end or something, then you probably should start thinking about getting out of this and doing something else with your life. And luckily enough, I listened to him. I didn't want to obviously listen to him because I was having the time of my life. I mean, at that age, your your your hormones are raging, your testosterone is raging, and racing is one of the biggest ways, you know, you can satisfy that craving for for for that kind of excitement that you crave.
So it was tough for me at that point to to sort of try to see as his reasoning for it. I always thought I could keep on improving, which which you probably can do. I mean, they say that if you do something, you know, enough for ten thousand hours, 10000 times, you're going to be pretty good at it. But I've already done those 10000 hours, I think, and I still wasn't getting any better. So I'm glad that he said that.
Although at that time of my life, I was pretty, pretty upset that I was agreeing to. To change my direction, I guess, to get out and do something a little bit different from that direction. So so looking back, you know, hindsight is is 100 percent. So I'm glad I did it. And I got on to something else that was probably more fulfilling in the long run for me. That sounds like a pretty rational sort of approach to a comment like that.
Do you remember how it made you feel at the time? Yeah, yeah. I wouldn't I wouldn't say depression, but pretty low because I knew that if I got out, it was going to be 100 percent out. And that that experience of racing where you're traveling quite a bit and you're you're sort of getting exposed to an international outlook on life at a very young age. That's wonderful. I mean, you learn so much just by being around people who who have so many different experiences in life.
And basically you're doing something that you love to do and you're getting, you know, even paid to do it. And and there's a lot of exposure at that level. So it's it's a rewarding thing to do when you're when you're young. And it does keep you toeing the line, I guess you could say, in terms of health and and a mental approach to life or mental outlook, you're always pushing yourself to the limit or what you think is your own limit.
But then you have to, you know, make sure that that that that level you're pushing to that limit is is not just average. Nobody cares in racing about who's average. It's always about who's who's the winner. And so it does train you, I guess, for the rest of your life in a pretty awesome way of of not being satisfied ever with with anything unless you're at the very top or putting out your absolute best performance. So I think, you know.
Looking back, I'm kind of glad that that was one of the ways I started out when I obviously left school and was able to do something that I was personally involved with, the the effort needed to to to be good or to excel. So that that was a bit of information for me, I guess for the rest of everything else has come after that.
Was that tough advice for your father to give or was that just the type of person he was?
He he loved racing. I mean, part of the reason why I was able to get into it was because he he loved himself. He was you know, his philosophy is is exactly that. You have to always try to excel, always try to push yourself to another level. And racing for him or anything in life was pretty much that that kind of competition, you know, that mental approach to life. So he saw racing as a as a good as a great character builder for me, I think.
And because I went for it or actually tried to seek it out as a as a as a thing to do after I graduated from high school or just as I was graduating from high school, he was all for it. You know, it's it's a great direction for a child or a young daughter or son to to put themselves into a competitive atmosphere, a competitive environment where it allows you to or stimulates you to become more than what you think you are.
And there's a lot of ups and downs along the way. Obviously, it's it's just like life. You know, you you crash and burn a lot of times, but at the same time, it's it's a great learning experience. And, you know, you learn a lot of things in racing that you would never learn in school and not just about, you know, the speed factor or anything like that. It's it's it's a mind game, like everything in in the world where you want to be the best.
It doesn't come down so much or 100 percent to talent. It comes down to the extra 10 percent or the one percent that makes you a little bit better than the other guy, which is how you approach it mentally. And if you're not mentally prepared, it doesn't matter how much talent you have, you probably won't do that.
Well, in the end, how did you go about mentally preparing?
Well, like anybody, I guess, first of all, I saw it as a passion for me to to be able to to do that. You know, I didn't start thinking I'm just going to do it for a year or anything like that. I just thought my father said, you know, it sure have a go and that's how you mature through it and we'll take it as it goes. You don't have to start working right away because he had a dealership, a car dealership and in southern Spain since the early 60s.
And it was kind of expected that when I graduate, graduated from high school, I would go there to work. So I wasn't really needing to have to go look for a job. That's a kind of enviable position, I guess, for a lot of people to be in, although a lot of people just go straight to college.
I finished pretty well in my graduating class, but I had no intention of going to the university to study or or anything like that. I'd finished university in in Madrid, Spain, and and that was pretty much it. And I thought, I'll just see if I can become something in in racing. And my father was all for it. So so I went for it. But the idea of going through it and becoming an elite racer was never on my mind.
It was just push and see how far I can go in. That mental approach allowed me. I think that if I can dedicate myself 100 percent to this, I don't have any distractions, other distractions in life or or or anything else that I wanted to do instead. And that allowed me the time and the energy and the the dedication to to try to be, you know, one of the top riders. And obviously, at that first instant, you're not looking to be a world class writer.
You're just trying to be the, you know, the regional champ or the national champ. And then you go on from there. But, yeah, I put a lot of a lot of energy into it because I just loved it. It's that typical thing that if you're doing something that you love, you're going to put that much more effort into it. And the rewards are are far from doing well, are sort of a catalyst to do even better.
And so I spiraled into that train of thought where the more successful I became, the more I wanted to do it and the more effort I put into it and and the happier I became, the more satisfied and fulfilled I became. So it was it was a great time of my life. I'm so happy I had that that time of my life and didn't just wander off and, you know, it stuck in a nine to five job or nine to six or whatever.
It's it was just a time of my life where I could get on the motorcycle mentally think that I have to be relentless in that pursuit of being the first guy to the finish line and do what it. Takes morally correct, of course, you don't want to do anything that's out of line, but a lot of people find ways to get around those rules.
But finishing at the very top was always that that that that goal. And so and like I said, my father saw that at some point when I was sort of four years into the professional career, that it wasn't going to happen because I guess you can reach your limit. I hate thinking about that, but I was reaching it and like, admitting that you've reached it.
Right, like being the self honesty required to.
Yeah, yeah, you're right. The thing is, you sometimes don't see it, other people see it. And that's that's a fact about a lot of things in life.
You can you can kid yourself quite a bit if you're not really self analytical about the truth. And I'm lucky to have a parent who was who was able to tell me what you know, he loved me as much as any parent can love a child. And at the same time, he wanted the best for me and he wanted me to be happy. But he could see from the outside that pretty much you're good, but you're not good enough and good isn't good enough kind of that approach.
And so how did you get from quitting motocross professionally anyway to design school?
Yeah, that's kind of interesting because they seem like two completely different. Yeah. Things in life. I mean, one, you have to be pretty bulky and the other one you have to have pretty lith fingers, I would imagine, you know. And now I'd always been very physically active since I was since I can remember. I was very active, physically active young kid, and is also very competitive from a very early age. And I just love being competitive.
But I also had this this artistic wiring in me, which I was never really able to to to understand. But it was just everything for me was from the very beginning, I would see everything from an artistic point of view as well as obviously a technical point of view, because my parents were very different, my father being basically a northerner, he was very Atilio very, very analytical and very technical about everything and everything had to be, you know, sort of measured.
You'd have to be able to put a number to it. And that included everything about, you know, being precise, about absolutely everything in very detail oriented. Whereas my mother was very much on the other side of the spectrum where she was all about the artistic value of things and being very creative. And you know that from everything from the art to music, art, culture and everything. So there was a bit of blending in that. But the the artistic side stuck.
You know, I guess you inherit quite a few genes from both, but it seemed rather split in my side. Whereas, I mean, I did love what my father had about that that technical side of what he was always teaching me. But for my mother, I learned the the appreciation for the arts and that kind of sort of combined and I guess shaped my way of seeing things were very young age. But the idea that if I mean, I started out obviously loving, you know, the industrial side of things, I guess you could say to me, can't the machines and the sounds and what makes horsepower and, you know, everything like that?
But also there was, like I said, the artistic side where I I started from a very young age of drawing. And if I was, you know, at home, my mother many times had to kick me out of the house to get me out and get some fresh air because all I ever wanted to do at that youngish age when you're still, you know, preschool. And around that age, I was just drawing hours and hours on end.
I loved colours, I loved shapes. And I would just draw. And I think she might have been a bit worried that this is going to be a little bit of a one off because he doesn't like to get out and play with the other kids. I would spend an unreal amount of time just in my room drawing. And, you know, kids nowadays, regretfully, they don't do that so much. They might be on the PlayStation's or whatever, but it was a great time to be able to to to to develop myself in that artistic way.
And so so what I'm trying to say is that I basically developed and never stopped drawing. I was always interested in creating things like that and drawing things. When my father said that, you know, you better start thinking or you should start thinking about something else. My options were were pretty wide. I obviously had that dealership, his dealership that I could go back to. But for some reason, even though that was fun for me, because I remember a lot of summers having to spend, you know, away from school working in the body shop, which is what I loved.
I loved. I love to modify the cars and do a lot of the the body work and things like that. I was the artistic side, obviously, but when he said you have to start thinking, you should start thinking about something else to do in life, I reverted back to that. That hope that I could actually turn drawing into a profession and I had this love of cars since I was about 10 and I spent many years, I guess those years drawing cars, not even knowing that it was actually a profession or something that you could do for, you know, earn money doing or anything like that.
I just thought car design was something that that people did at home kind of thing. But I did develop this talent or further this talent of being able to be creative, drawing in the drawing of products. And it was real serendipity when I found out that there was actually a university or college in the U.S. in in Los Angeles that was dedicated to training young people to become car designers. And it was right at that time that my father had suggested that moving out of the motocross direction.
And I couldn't believe that, you know, this college was basically the place to go for car designers who wanted to to make that their profession. I was it was an awakening moment for me.
And a lot of people a lot of people seem to think that, like, design college is easy, but that that wasn't the experience you had at all.
No, no, no. It was it was tough. I guess it's a dream profession. And a lot of kids nowadays kind of look up to the guys who are doing it and thinking, wow, you know, these are the these are the pros and they've made it. Thing is, car design is not a big profession. It's there are a lot of car designers in the world because simply car companies don't need a lot of designers. They you know, even the big ones, they try to keep their teams pretty small.
So there aren't a lot of opportunities out there to become a car designer. I remember when I applied for Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, they said, well, you can't just apply and expect to come. You have to go through a selection process which will determine your portfolio. If your portfolio is good enough for you to be here with us. And the starting level, there's it's extremely high to have a huge amount of people that apply at a very, very small percentage are allowed to even, you know, to to start.
So I remember our first day of class when I finally did get the the approvals start there. They had or we were 30 students in the class and they told us, you know, that ratio of people who applied to people who actually get accepted to start. And it's it's scary. It's it's I think it was about three percent when they tell that to when they told that to us, we were, you know, pretty proud of the fact that you're there.
But then they cut us down to size when they said that, you know, we never have more than 10 students of the 30 that start finish. So so it's pretty tough to get through that that curriculum. And in fact, when we finished, there was only six of us from that starting class of thirty 30 and started originally. So it's grueling. It's not I can't, I can't tell you enough how difficult they make it to get through with reason, because like I said, there aren't that many car designers out there.
There isn't a need for that many car designers out there. So they make sure that the ones that do get through the four year program are the ones that are, you know, competitive enough or good enough to actually start start on the ground running, basically. So it's it's it's a real boot camp. And the guys who make it through are pretty much prepared right away, you know.
So did you need to motivate yourself through that? I think I remember in video I was watching about you that you spent like 16 hour days and used to go home and make instant coffee at 11 p.m. and like, what?
Did you love that grind or was that process sort of like challenging at times? And how did you get yourself through it?
I guess I guess most people would see it as a grind or difficult. I thrived there. I relished every single minute I was there. It's kind of it's kind of like a person who loves pain and that kind of situation, because I loved the challenge of of proving yourself there. It kills a lot of people. I mean, not literally, but it does it does make a lot of people finally give up or some stage along the way. It's kind of like running a marathon and you take a break.
You're never going to get back up to speed again. But I like I said, I really was I didn't see it as a grind or anything like that. I just I just saw it as the path I needed to the logistics I needed to get through to get to the end. For me, the end goal was to get a job and become a great designer one day. But the process of getting there was just the path I had to.
Scepter, the obstacles, I guess you could say that I needed to to to overcome to to get there, it was it was a logistical approach.
They used whatever it takes, I'll do it. How bad do you want it? I wanted it very badly and I did none of that seemed like it was going to stop me in my tracks or make me rethink what I wanted. I had this vision right from the beginning that I'm going to make it through and I'm going to I'm going to become happy because I will be able to do what I always want to do. So it wasn't it wasn't in any way a negative experience.
It was a difficult, hard experience. You know, it's like taxing your body and your mind to the limit. But when anybody I think anybody who does that or who has done that probably will recount that with with a positive spin to it. You know, they don't see it as negative. Anything that's difficult to to achieve when you look back at it, you don't criticize it. You sort of think, you know, it's kind of like Green Beret training or, you know, some black ops.
You get through it. You look at it back fondly, but you don't make it through. You know, you have the other viewpoint.
So then you ended up at Ford right after? I did, yeah.
Yeah, I did. And I think what happens is halfway through the big three at the time, the Chrysler, General Motors, General Motors and Ford would come and check out, you know, who has the potential to become a good employee or somebody they'd look forward to on graduation. So what they'll do is they'll sift them out around halfway through. They'll come to the college and look through the the middle ranks of the of the of the classes and see who's who's up and coming, has talent or whatever or the mindset and so forth.
I guess they took a shine to me and said, look, if if you signed with us now, will will help you get through the rest of the way on the cost side of it and will be happy to give you a starting position with us on graduation. So that obviously for me, when they said that was a no brainer, I had to you know, I thought that'll take a lot of the weight off of it. And the main thing is to get my foot in the door on graduation.
So what better way than to know that that door is already cracked open? So, yeah, I accept obviously and got through the next two years. Pretty, pretty, I would say easily. But had that, like I said, the weight off my shoulders of how to get the financial packages in place.
And I went to Ford straight out of a graduation and they had a position open for me in Detroit at the main headquarter design headquarters in Detroit. But I'd grown up in Europe and I had no no desire to to work and live in Detroit. And I knew that Ford was an international company and had their European design headquarters in Germany. And I thought, well, you know, I'd much rather work for you guys in Germany if that's possible. And they looked into it and said, sure, I've got a few openings that we could push around and have you take one of them in the European studios in Cologne in Germany.
That's that's awesome. So before we go, I want to get into specifics about car design.
Before we do that, I had some sort of I have questions around not only design, but design in a in a corporation.
So how do you like what's the tension between engineering and design? What's the difference?
It goes goes both ways. And you can have I'll tell you what it is. The bread and butter companies have have an awful relationship between the designers and the engineers, whereas the high flying the the exotics have a great relationship between the engineers and designers. The reason being is. The smell, not the smaller companies, but the ones that work well or look to be in volume sellers, they've got to please everybody all the time, or at least is their goal, whereas the the more limited in calling the exotic companies are I mean, of course, they want to sell everything they make, but they can afford to sell less, less in the end run.
So the results or a designer is basically the crazy guy in the organization. He's the one that comes up with these ideas that pretty much, you know, scare everybody at the beginning because they're five years out from production and the designer gets paid the bucks to basically come up with these ideas that are innovative. And engineers don't like typically don't like to be pushed in this innovative direction because it puts them at at ease with trying to have to figure out something very quickly that hasn't been done before.
They they would rather rely on past solutions and the current status quo to to turn out work that they're guaranteed that will not fail, that it's quality. And they they know what it's going to cost the moment the designer gets all excited and starts envisioning the future and coming up with ideas that haven't been proven or developed, that puts him at risk that he's not going to be able to deliver. So, I mean, budgets are budget, whether you're budgets, whether you're working with a small company or a bigger company, you still have to stick to the budget.
But the the designers and the engineer relationship with, say, a standard company is difficult, can be difficult at times. I've had many, many experiences where my dreams and wishes and visions weren't able to be realized because of the negative pressure from and not only from the the engineers, but also from the other departments, marketing and finance. They're all in there to make a buck. Pretty much it's it's the way corporate big corporations run. And so they'll put the binders or obstacles in your way in order for you basically just to calm yourself down and turn out pretty much the standard solution.
So you're you're working and you're excited because you're doing things that started to spark in your brain. And one day you'll see them on the roads. But it could be so much more. And that's why I think a lot of times these companies do concept cars to show that they are forward thinking. They'll show that their design team is innovative and that but the concept cars aren't the real cars. They're oftentimes just, you know, to get the public excited about what could be coming.
But at the end of the day, so many of these concept cars that we see at the motor shows never turn out to be real. And they're so watered down when they go to production that you don't oftentimes don't see a resemblance between what's shown in a motor show or an auto show and what actually comes out on the on the road. Whereas when you work with a higher end company where you're you're expected to do something innovative. These, like I said, the higher end.
Exotic companies need to stand out. They need to do something that's better than what whatever else the competition is doing. And it's fierce. I mean, you have that top end. You're getting companies. Obviously, the budgets are bigger, like I said. But the only thing that can make a difference is basically what your calling card or what the company's calling card represents. So the concept cars that we produce at that end for a motor show auto show pretty much are the ones going into into production.
So what that requires is a is an engineer who's as excited and as visionary and as crazy or believing that the impossible is possible as the designer. So it's a lot funner, obviously, to work in that end for a designer. Whereas, you know, the designers have to basically, you're told to do a job or breathe, you have to adhere to. But when the brief lets you stretch the limits, then then it is that's where you have a blast.
It doesn't reach everybody at that that end of the market. A lot of people in the higher end market volumes and markets at the higher end, markets will just tend to to sell very few cars.
But how important is it for the designer to create that vision of the future internally in terms of a sales aspect versus like just creating something that they.
Yeah, is amazing and hoping or praying, I guess, that people will see the same vision.
That's the problem with a lot of companies. They're in it for the, you know, the profit. They're not in it for the actual excitement of bringing something, you know, exceptionally new to the market. So they're playing it safe. The whole thing with a designer is designers are wired to play it safe. They're wired to take risks and companies are risk adverse. So a designer is happy, obviously, when he gets in a position to be able to be a designer within a company, you're basically able to.
Your babies, you know, you have a thought. Does that sort of initial phase of ideation, phase of creating a new product, but at the end of the day, if that product is not the best that you could have made it or is shot down along the way in different ways by other people, then you're not really going to be ultimately satisfied. So if you ask most designers what their favorite job in the world would be, a car designer, you're always going to find them answering what I'd love to work for a high end exotic car company because they'll let me or challenge me or allow me to to do my best work.
And that excitement of doing your best work rubs off throughout the organization. And you get much happier people in these organizations working as teams. You get a lot of momentum and excitement builds up when you're allowed to express your creativity and and things go smoother. And basically, do you think that's a little bit limiting, though?
And I'm speaking in the sense of it might not have been your best design, but it probably was the most impactful when you redesigned the Fiat 500. And I say impactful because you you probably I mean, through that and other things. But that saved the company. It saved hundreds of thousands of jobs that saved bankruptcy.
Yeah, it did. And it did. Absolutely. But again, the brief there was was a little bit different. The brief there was I mean, Fiat, they're they're a wealthy company. No matter what people think, you know, you think of Fiat, it's not an expensive product, but they're massive. I mean, in terms of what they were selling in the earlier days, I wouldn't say the time when the 500 came around, but with the content, as they call it.
But in those days, they they they were, as I call it, the dire straits, because they weren't they weren't able to sell very many products on the world stage. They were sort of they missed a step or two steps and they were stumbling along. And suddenly they found themselves in a position where they needed instantly a solution that would generate profits. And and so the design solution was how can we create something quickly that will have a world or not a world that just a huge impact around the world eventually obviously came to the U.S. But in Europe, it had to it had to pretty much in the brief save the company because they weren't selling much.
And of course, you know, if you want to do a car that sort of has that kind of impact to society, you have to reach for the emotional factor that makes people want the car without really needing the car. And that emotional factor and design is is vital. It's extremely important that you you you create a product that somebody necessarily doesn't need it but wants it. If you hit that, you've pretty much hit the magic.
You know, you found the golden chalice or what drives that emotional attachment, like how is that between sort of engineering, design, marketing? Like how do those interplay together?
Well, it's I mean, design is all about emotion. So what you're you're counting on is that the design will be a main factor or one of the main factors to buying that product. So, you know, if you're in the market for a budget car or everyday car, you're so many cars cover that well enough today.
That design tends to be the deciding factor when it comes to making that decision of what car want. You know, what does the brand represent and what does the car look like? I'm going to be riding, driving this thing and my neighbors will be seeing me in it and they'll judge me, you know, my tastes on this. So design is is a very, very important factor when it does come to to designing to sell him the product. So companies are starting now, I think, to put a huge value on basically the design of the of the vehicle.
So I think that's really important. I want to switch gears a little subtlely here in terms of what is the role of what role does curiosity play with designers in an organization such as yourself and your experiences and and sort of like just in general?
Yeah. And that's that's everything there's been curiosity is is key. Basically, the the driving factor for innovation is the key to everything in the whole process.
But a lot of people seem to think that curiosity slows things down. No, you don't. No, no. I mean, you have to you have to take things, you know, slowly when you're when you're designing new products, obviously. But curiosity is that grand spark, that big bang that kicks everything off, you know, because without that, we don't innovate. It's I wouldn't say the main ingredient, but it's the first ingredient that you need for everything else to succeed along the process.
I love speaking about curiosity. It's. My favorite, absolute favorite subject to talk about curiosity, basically, I think we're all pretty much we start life being very curious about things. It's sort of a factor of life that kids are always asking why, you know, or how does this work or whatever. But like I said, it is absolutely the the thing that makes us visionaries. Basically, if you can start out being curious, that will lead to the imagination, which then will lead to the creativity that you need to to generate.
And that also leads to being a visionary. And then you actually have to execute it. But but, yeah, I would say curiosity is is the most important thing when you speak about innovation. It's basically it's it makes you smarter. You know, it's it's sometimes considered even more important than the knowledge. So, yeah, it's it's critical.
What do organizations do to remove curiosity from not only designers but from everybody but your experience as a designer, what are the what do they do that gets in the way of that curiosity?
They pretty much put blocks in your way, I guess, as a designer to being curious. They like I said, they tried to make sure that what you're doing is is playing it safe. The problem with playing it safe again is you're being you know, you could risk being stagnant. You could risk, you know, going backwards.
Even they don't encourage it enough. It basically plays on the fact that if you if you're not curious, you're basically stifling the the all important innovation factor. I'd say that you that that all companies would need, or at least a part of the company needs to to be thinking about innovation.
So it's of success as the seeds of its own destruction here in the sense of you take risks and then you become successful in part because of those risks, and then you want to protect that success. So you take fewer risks and you're more instead of innovative in the sense of designing something new from scratch or more like improvements. But that allows somebody else that's going to take the risk, the chance to sort of displace you.
Yeah, that's true. I mean, you know, any any time we we stop that curiosity factor, it's going to be frustrating, obviously, from the designer side. It's going to stop that connection that, you know, many times when we're talking about curiosity, what we're doing is we're putting together what I think are bits of knowledge together. You know, you're collecting bits of knowledge that probably don't have much to do with each other. And when you connect those bits of knowledge, it allows you to think of new ideas, allows you to to to be more creative, obviously.
And the more creative you are, the more solutions you you can generate from becoming more knowledgeable about different things. That sort of sucks you in into being, you know, even more curious. So it's a kind of a spiral. If you're not curious, if you're not wired to to act on it, then you're pretty much looking at a dim or not optimized solution, I would call it. You have to be sort of relevant in the way you think.
It's important that when we think about how to apply curiosity, you have to you have to understand that if you're not relevant with the times and up to date with things that are being developed or or I wouldn't even say discovered because things, you know, everything exists, you just have to find it pretty much dig into it. A lot of it comes from from research, obviously, but that that process of basically being able to apply your curiosity, it kind of is what we call cos I was speaking recently at a summit about cross-industry innovation, where basically you put teams together of people who don't really have much in common, but they all I mean, they're all passionate, obviously, about what they do, but their interests are pretty varied.
And what you do is you you create this this force of this energy where all these different ideas come together and start bouncing off of each other. And what you do is you create this this this is basically this the source of of innovation, of being able to put different ideas together that you never would have had in the first place. You know, you can you can apply that obviously in different ways. People say, how do you get you know, how do you become curious or how do you become creative?
It's pretty much basically just putting different different thoughts, different ideas together that start bouncing off of each other, and the more you learn, the more you apply it, the wider the ideas become. The the the energy grows and you start coming out with products that you probably never will have thought about on your own in the first place.
How do you see computers interacting with design in the future? Not in the sense of curiosity, but in terms of do you think designers will be displaced by designing things? What role does it have in terms of creating design now? And how does that how does that take the designer from the medium? I mean, can you just explore that further?
Yeah, and at the risk of sounding like I'm old school, not that computers are a bad thing. They are not. They actually help us, you know, obviously help us in terms of turning out to work a lot quicker and giving us more options to consider. But when we're talking specifically about something that I mean, design is is pretty much a combination of art and science. It's not pure art. It's not pure science. But you have to blend the two together.
When you let a computer do a lot of the work, you're losing the essence of design, which is design, is, like I said, it's an emotional product. And and you can oftentimes get closer to success when you when you add in that human touch, as we call it, computers rule that out.
They they kind of you know, they're called tools that allow us to do our job, but they're lacking the emotional side of it. So I think it's good to use computers, obviously, but I would never, ever believe in using a computer as a as a tool for creativity at the beginning. You can use it later, like I said, to give you variations and options and things like that and maybe to speed up the development process. But design from a design point of view where you're probably trying to to to make something, even if it's you know, we all strive for perfection.
But a lot of times great design backs off from perfection because there's a there's something there's something perfect about not being perfect, if that makes any sense. What we try to do with designers as designers is try to make something not look right so much, but as feel right. If it feels right and it tends to be right, you can measure things in the measurements can be exact. And still it looks off. But if you're. Gut instinct tells you that it's right, most often it is, but that's another subject because gut instinct is thinking about it earlier was, you know, people rely a lot of times on gut instinct, but they rely on it too soon in their careers.
And that is probably a mistake. I think when you feel that something is right, that is a reliable guide, when you've got pretty much the experience that what your gut instinct is telling you is valid. You don't want to rely on something that hasn't been proven before, but if you tend to to be successful, your gut instinct, that is pretty much a good not a tool, but a good, good way to to evaluate your your designs.
So, yeah, computers, I'd say they do help us, but I can't imagine anything. You know, if you look back at the history of art, history of sculptures, a lot of those things that were, you know, still considered today to be timeless masterpieces or enduring masterpieces never could have been done with a computer.
They've always got a bit of imperfection that makes them, you know, very human in a very human. Yeah, yeah. Sometimes something that is absolutely spot on just doesn't feel right. You you can't warm up to it. So, yeah, I've I've always tried to stay away from computers and design until absolutely necessary. Today's age of design of any product basically has to go eventually to that stage of being, you know, used a computer comes into the process to either to to deliver the design to a team to to actually build it the engineering side of it.
But if you can hold out as long as you can during the actual design and ideation phase, and you're going to come up with a much, probably much more sensual and attractive product than if you rely too much on computers. And that's a little bit what I don't like about training. The training of designers and in our systems today is that a lot of them are starting to rely too much on on computers. And you ask them to sketch something and they have a hard time getting in the way that the traditional way of sketching was was always a big thing when I was coming up through the ranks and was pretty much your work and not computers work.
And, you know, there's always the artistic license that comes into into play. And you can do that when you're when you're doing it with your hand or with your own input. But a computer basically will give you a a zero or one output on most things. And that is a cold, no or cold way to operate.
Let's switch gears and talk about cars specifically. Now, your passion. What are the things that people who design cars wish that consumers knew about the cars?
And you can you can talk us through the gamut. I mean, you've done sort of like all ranges of cars in terms of price all the way up to like the P1 versus the Fiat 500. And so are they the same things? Are they different?
Like can you from a designer's point of view, it's kind of like, you know, you often get asked, what's your favorite design that you've ever done? Or I get asked that a lot. And and again, you know, you always you want to answer the question, but I find it extremely hard to answer that question because you put as much blood and guts and sweat into designing the small details and the small cars, the less expensive ones as you do in the and the bigger ones.
It's much like, you know, I would I would compare it to being asked, which is your favorite child? Unless you've got a real black sheep in the family, you're probably going to end up saying that all of them are your favorites. Just they're all different. So I can't say that, you know, designing one cars is is funner than designing another car. They're all important. But in one respect, I think that designing between that whole range of of cars from your basic get me from here to there kind of car to the one where you just stare at it in the garage and have a glass of wine or you're looking at it.
The thing is design, basically, it's it's it's more expensive to design a bad car that's not successful than it is to design a very expensive, a well designed car. It costs more to make a mistake than it does to not make a mistake. If you get me wrong, I mean, there are. Can you expand on that? Yeah. You're trying to capture what I call that emotional factor, which is they both turn the person, the consumer on in such a way that he he really wants.
Ah, but at the same time, you know, your budget kind of can control what you do to add excitement to the to the end product.
I think it's apt, actually, that you mention a kind of turning you on as a means to buying the car, because I remember something in the research I was doing for you about the BMW mini, the Cooper mini being inspired by a woman. Yeah. And a woman's body.
Can you can you talk to me about that? Yeah. I mean, the thing with what I find really interesting about design is and like I said, there's a bit of a science to design.
Wouldn't you design for something that's appealing, emotionally appealing? You have to I mean, most designers don't just pull pull something out of thin air. They have to get their inspiration from some source or some some some original thing that that that they that they feel, you know, they like or feel connected to. I've always been very interested in the art of making something beautiful, whether it be architecture, whether it be furniture or anything like that. There's, you know, beautiful in in in the right way is enduring.
It doesn't doesn't ever go out of fashion. But when I design, pretty much everything I've ever designed has a connection, a personal connection to nature. For me, one of my favorite subjects always has been biology and in nature. And I've always tried to find my inspiration through nature. Pretty much it is a science. We call it biomimicry, and it's pretty much the science of of looking for solutions in in the way that nature has already figured it out for us.
So when I when I design, my inspiration doesn't come from, let's say, things that are transient or in one ear and out the next. It's basically looking for the solutions that nature provides us. And basically most things in nature coming close to 99 percent of them would be pretty much considered to be attractive in the first place. So when I look at as inspiration from there, the the the things that I look for, things that you feel comfortable for, the inspiration of things, shapes that you feel comfortable with and and don't jar you or don't basically surprise you in a negative way.
When I design the Mini, I was looking for those shapes in nature pretty much that you would see is familiar without really realizing what you were looking at. At the first instance. I know I spoke with I spoke about how I designed the Mini that had to be reminiscent of the original one simply because the original one was such an iconic car of the 20th century that it would make sense to make a replacement that just sort of started off in another direction, had to carry over a lot of that character, character of the original, and bring in some of the, you know, the future technology that we developed over the years.
But at the same time, the shapes could be influenced in such a way that it did come across as something that you wanted to get closer to a lot of the shapes that we see. You know, if I say the female body, well, it's it's just simply because those are shapes that we see as nice shapes. I don't want to say in a in a sensual way, but those are comforting shapes, shapes that most people appreciate as being attractive, appealing, friendly in a way, enticing in other ways.
But yeah. So I think I think that was a big factor in the design and the acceptance of the design of the new Mini was. It did recall, obviously, the iconic look of the original one, but at the same time, it it it didn't make you feel like it was some kind of being or vehicle had suddenly appeared on the market as being something revolutionary, revolutionary in its and its design language. It had to feel accepted right from the beginning, I'd say in those shapes did very much help it to achieve that.
And was there an example of a fish or was it a cheetah that sort of inspired the Piran?
There was yeah, that's an interesting story. I remember when I first started with McLaren, I moved. I had to I moved to England, obviously, and it was very close to to the headquarters living there. But I had a few weeks off still am I? I went off to the Caribbean and went to an island where they basically had some trophies around on the on the walls. And I noticed this selfish above the reception desk. And I asked the lady there basically, why is this up there on the wall?
It's taken up such a big amount of space there. And she said, well, I don't know. The owner caught it. He's very proud of it. If you speak to the owner, probably explain it better to you. So I spoke to him and he said, well, then, don't you know how hard it is to catch those fish there so fast? And I say, well, yeah, they must be fast, obviously. But he says, well, they're not only faster, much faster than a cheetah.
So that that sparked my curiosity. And again, so I started researching this over the next few days and found out that for certain reasons that the selfish could get up to over 70 miles an hour, which if you compare it to a 50 mile an hour cheetah, that's a huge difference. And especially if it's going through, you know, much that's going through water versus air. Yeah, it's got to be a secret there that somebody can learn from their use.
And I found out that basically the scales helped generate little bubbles. I to put it very simply, little bubbles of air around it, which then will create sort of an air pocket or a film of air around it, which then creates another thing, which is a bit of like a suction, which full of fish even faster forward. And so this this this concept of using the the the scales of the fish became something I started to think, well, how can we apply that to to the design?
And this new P1, the McLaren P1 that you're referring to was or its mission was to be the greatest car that McLaren had ever built up to that point, surpassing hopefully even the F1 that they'd made in the middle 90s, which is an iconic supercar that still today has has its incredible Poland appeal. But basically, I was able to to start with a clean sheet of paper on that design of the P1 and again, to make it the best in its class.
I was trying to look for every advantage I could find. So I basically on the way back, I stopped off in Miami and picked up a selfish I had just been caught and bought it right there and had a taxidermy downtown in Miami and then they shipped it back to Heathrow Airport, albeit in a massive package that required me to get one of the Formula One trucks to pick it up because of the size of it. And that didn't turn.
I could just imagine that expense report. It wasn't nice. I mean, I almost lost my job because the finance director had been a bit upset about my use of the credit card company credit card. And it was it wasn't good. But at the same time, I tried to explain to them, you know, that designers think in these ways and you have to, you know, accept that this new design department at McLaren was out to do things a little bit differently.
And we had to find every advantage we could in the book to to beat the competitors. So I don't I still to this day, I don't think he agreed to it. But at the same time, we we put that fish through the the whole analysis of why and how it accomplished what it did. And like I said, the the what we call the scanning process of of the actual mathematics of the of the scales were applied. We use that to put into the air intake ducts on the P1 to to make to actually accelerate the air going into the car.
So if you feed Moreira into an engine, basically, you're going to get more power out of it. So we found the distinct advantage by using these scales to to improve the airflow. And it was big. I mean, the the amount of increase in volume of air was was was enough to blow away the engineers and make them see that the designers sometimes can be a good, good part of the organisation. These crazy guys. Yeah.
You mentioned design language a few minutes ago. What does what does that mean? What is the design language for those of us who are uninitiated?
Well, design language is basically the brand recognition factor. If a company is doing it right, a consumer should be able to look at the car and understand who makes that car, what brand. Car that is that is done by creating a look and that look is like a language, I guess you could say it's more than just the face. It's basically features on the car that are used as strong design points to to brand that image. So if you look at certain companies, they'll have certain factors that make, you know, colors or shapes or fonts, styles or whatever that will associate with or typify the company.
You know, you'll be able to identify the company right away without knowing that it's actually that company that is is being talked about. So when you speak about design language, what we try to do is make a car look uniquely unique to that brand. In other words, the shape of the car, different types of elements in the car, such as the grill, the front end grill, the lamps, the door handles, some of those things can I wouldn't say communism because that can look cheap sometimes.
But at the same time, if you can give a feel that is basically sort of what you would see in a family where you have a brother and sister looking similar, they're not exactly the same, obviously, but they will have a look that resembles each other, resembles their parents. And so what you try to do is build that. A lot of companies do it well. Other companies might not do it so well. But that is, again, one of the objectives of a designer is to either continue that look in such a way that it's still progressive, because if you hold hold on to it too tightly, then it can get overused and boring in the end and stagnate also.
But what you tried to do is, is progress it progressively. You don't want to make big jumps in the design language because otherwise it becomes, you know, either diluted too quickly or indistinguishable or looks too much like somebody else's design language. So it's a it's a it's a it's a bit of a balance. But you want to always move that design language, that design recognition factor of of a product in a way that every time you come out with a new product, it doesn't look the same.
But it looks either. You can't say better because design is so subjective, but you can say it sort of looks instantly recognizable.
Absolutely. Instantly recognizable and more advanced in one way or another.
Sort of like Ferrari or Porsche come to mind when you say that. Yeah.
I mean, some companies paint themselves into a corner and it's hard to get out. I mean, you know, it's it's it's a it's a balancing act. Obviously, if you if you don't change enough, you can be criticized for not advancing or not. Like I said earlier, not being relevant. But at the same time, if you can if you can come up with fresh ways of interpreting something like adding a new word to a language that kind of expresses or defines something a little bit better, then then you're doing it right.
You've mentioned in the past, sort of you mentioned criticizing, which sort of tried this in my memory. But you mentioned in the past, when you're driving a car, there's two of you sort of like the person driving the car and then the person critiquing it. And I think that's something we we all resonate with, because when we're doing something, we're also we're not only doing it, maybe not in the present moment, but we're also critiquing ourselves.
And how do you balance the tension between those two?
Yeah, it's a good question. I don't know. It's sort of a way that comes out of your own self. I mean, all designers are extremely self-critical. I'd say, you know, a lot of them, a lot of us maybe aren't sure of what we're doing sometimes. And you look for justification or approval from the other people. Well, obviously, if you do something great and everybody loves it, then you've done a great job. But it's really a real deep cut to the to to the designer when somebody criticizes design.
But when you're actually designing like like you mentioned it for me, it's not so much about thinking while I'm designing. I pretty much think about I mean, the other thing is you have to be aware that when you design, there's a lot of research that has to be done before you start designing. I think a lot of designers might fall into that trap of where they just start designing a new product immediately when they get a brief to a project to do.
For me, it's all about starting with the vision, starting with trying to envision the outcome. It's a process pretty much. You can't I mean, you can obviously start, but it's just basically putting lines on paper that really don't have any and result. You have to start, I think, with research in your design goal first and you have to imagine it before you actually carry it out. It's people oftentimes about talk about working in reverse. You know, you start out with what you want to see and what you envision.
As the final result and then you sort of work backwards, I, I can see the value of that. But from a design point of view, what I try to do is see the end result first. And then when I've seen it or tried to imagine the best outcome, then I just let my hand start working. And subconsciously, it's amazing. It's been in the groove. I think people can relate that when you do something that basically comes across as being effortless or very easy, it's not it's you've done your research.
You've practiced enough to understand that you have the talents to to apply them to a design. You understand proportions was all the the basics. Then you let then you let the artistic side of yourself or the experience come out by itself. You don't have to push it. You just start looking at almost like looking at variance when you're drawing. But yeah, it's it's an interesting and amazing process when you can actually draw nice things without putting the effort or the obvious effort that you need to put into it without without making it seem like you're actually thinking what you're drawing.
It's a subconscious act in a way that almost sounds like Mostri the way it looks like magic, because I know when I'm drawing people, people are fascinated.
But I'm really not thinking I know what the end goal is. I know what I have to achieve with the design. And you won't just do one design, obviously, and say that's the end of it. And here you go. Let's go do it. You'll go through a whole sketching process, but one one sketch will lead to another sketch and will successively lead to many more sketches, obviously. But it's not sitting there trying to think where each line goes.
It's basically letting your your subconscious thoughts of the end product come out as as they want to come out. It's you're watching that. You're being critical of it, obviously, but you're not there at that moment in time to to change anything. You're just observing it. And and later you can go back and change it. I would say.
What are some of the trade offs I have to think about when designing a car?
Well, the big one is basically we have to design a car that can be brought to the market and success successfully received by the but by the consumer, obviously. But what they have to understand is that we're working from a point of view that has to pass so many rules and legislation and certification things that there are quite a few things that restrict you from doing the, say, the ultimate beautiful car that you could design. They'll they'll put in things every year.
You'll come across new regulations that force you to to to remember to to to force you to do something that you really almost have to compromise the design on four. And one of the big factors there is that there's always a big push for safety, whether it be passenger, you know, people inside the car safety or pedestrian safety or whatever. And those regulations are constantly pushing designers to to compromise their designs to make the vehicle safer. You know, there are a lot of opportunities, obviously, because one of the things about driver safety, which is very interesting, is a lot of the problems with accidents or incidents like that are a result of driver error.
And there's a huge movement now we all know about going towards autonomous driving, autonomous driving rules out the driver, a lot of instances. And basically, if you can take the driver factor away, you're probably in one way going to to make cars safer, obviously. And then you can start to change the design in such a way that you're not thinking so much about the driver being constantly, you know, aware of the situation around them. He can start to relax in the interior of the design of the car, can start to become a little bit more.
And this is what I see is becoming the new future of design. The interior is going to start playing out as more of an entertainment or a social or working or relaxing environment so that you can start to express more interesting designs on the interiors of the car. I want to I want to get into the future sort of cars.
But just before we get there, one quick question about sort of the efficiency of cars today.
What would me how do we make cars more efficient like it is?
I've heard that there, you know, the side mirrors, you know, create I think it's five or ten. Some of the drag on a car and just getting rid of those would automatically increase fuel efficiency. So I can see that sort of changing, if that's true, in the future with autonomous cars. But what are the things that we can do today or that are being worked on behind the scenes that we don't see to make cars more efficient before we get to that sort of place?
Yeah, obviously, if we're looking at today's cars and we're looking at fuel propelled cars, then we're looking at aerodynamic efficiency. But the trend now I think is is we're almost been not been forced. But the the general view now is that we have to start looking more at ways of not using the world's resources. So so not looking at fossil fuels. And that brings into play the whole game about electrical propelled cars, if you want to call it that way.
And what that means is that we're we're not so much now in need of aerodynamic AIDS or aerodynamic shape that will allow us or or allow us to save fuel in terms of efficiency. So saving fuel is is basically based on improving the aerodynamics of a car as well as handling, obviously. But we are limited to speeds on most roads where the air academics don't play a huge part of the efficiency. So obviously, the faster you go, the more dynamic the car, the less fuel it uses.
But like I said, we can't really go that fast these days. So as soon as we move into the world of electrical cars or electric cars, we start looking at ways that the electrical side can improve the efficiency of a car. So what that does, it means we can go with a lot smaller areas needed to be used for the the motors. Basically, you can either use in wheel motors for the electrics or you can use a basically an electric motor that can be very small, it can be packaged quite small, and you do have to consider batteries.
But those can be placed in ways that intrude on the on the interiors of the car. But I think efficiency is going to come in the future through the advantages of smaller things needed within the car, because the electronics is all about reducing bulk and size and hopefully weight. The other thing is rolling resistance, what we call rolling resistance of the tires. If you can eliminate that that friction, then you're helping the car to go with a lot less power needed to push it forward, forward.
And so we're going to be looking probably at new ways of of making tires in such a way that they become thinner and still have maximum adhesion in all circumstances and efficiency. I can also see in terms of how you basically use the vehicle, if we think about vehicles being parked most of the time they're not very efficient in that way. But if we can use the vehicle during during our journeys, our trips from one place to another, if we can use the vehicle as a as a zone or an area where we can actually do something else and not be so, you know, needed to drive the vehicle, then we're also looking at more efficiency.
So like I mentioned earlier, if we can open up the interior to be in a more usable space in terms of work or socialization or relaxation, even then that's a huge way of opening up to the visibility or the efficiency side.
Do you see the future, the short term future, as in we own our own autonomous vehicle or we're using a service?
Yeah, that's I feel really strongly about that because I think that would that would affect design a lot. Absolutely. Absolutely. But you still I mean, design is all about like I said, you want products to be desirable. But the general trend, what I see nowadays is the the younger generations are less into owning things. They're more about the experience. So I think there there is going to be obviously a trend to move away from owning vehicles.
But there will also still remain those people who want want to own the product itself. In other words, the younger generation will be about getting from here to there in a shared experience kind of way or or not having to worry about owning a product that will have to be ensured or, you know, maintained or rissoles and anything like that. So that and then obviously the other side, like about owning your own vehicle, people always want to to own something, but it means that design in both cases is always going to be important.
I don't think we're ever going to return to an age or be in a sort of retrogressed to an age where design becomes less important. I think it's always going to be a factor in in wanting to be seen with that product and how you identify yourself with that. That product. Do you think that like this speed limit will increase and autonomous vehicles and then aerodynamics will actually play a bigger role? And the second sort of follow on to this is I know of asking a lot of questions in the future, which is hard to predict.
Car designers are always looking at five to 10 years in the future and DC sort of like electric vehicles as a stopgap or the end solution.
Is there a better solution on the horizon?
Yeah, there's always going to be a better solution, obviously. I mean, for me, it is, like you said, a stopgap, because I can see or we all know there are better solutions because, you know, electrics aren't that efficient in terms of what you do later with the batteries or how you actually produce the batteries. There's there's a lot of issues with that. But I do see advances in propulsion technology come in, but they just probably won't happen in the next generation of cars.
I would say that there's a lot of reasons why that won't happen, mostly probably because the economics of it at the moment and you have to build up also a lot of the infrastructure network to accommodate that. And at the moment, we're having a tough enough time with with the electric side that moving on from there is going to take us probably a huge generation to get there. But, yeah, the the electric side is a good next step. I think we're even going right now through the hybrid step where you do combine, you know, fuel with electrics to get the best of both worlds when and when and if needed.
But the electrics are probably will be with us for quite a while until the next probably hydrogen step comes in. And I see that as one day being probably the the successor to the electric market or the electric age that we're going through now. Yeah, I mean, you can you could even advance on that. There's there's, you know, the the idea that atomic power could hit sometime in the future for where they could become the next step. Also, that's there's a bit of, you know, have to take a reality check with with the safety side of it, obviously.
But it can be a next ultimate step that provides us with with, say, endless power.
How far away are we from completely autonomous vehicles, regardless of whether there's a strong wheel in it or not? Yeah. In your opinion, I see autonomous vehicles as a vision of of hope, you know, that at some point in the future will be able to do it. But the problem with that is it's what we call level five, where the car can basically be expected to cover any potentially dangerous situation and cover it in a way that is ethically or morally correct, because there are times when will it will have to decide on something that is critical, very critical, and that has to be judged in a certain way.
It's hard to say if a machine can make a better decision than a person at some time at a critical time. But I would say that until we have that, what we call level five for the cars are pretty much confident of of every situation can be that every situation can be handled properly. It's going to be difficult to see it on the road in any major way because you'll always, at least for the next, I don't know, decades.
I would say you're not going to have all cars being intelligent on the road. It's very interesting. If you look into that biomimicry side of things where you'll see fish schools of fish, you'll see swarms of birds, starlings, they call that type of bird where they all basically move in rhythm to each other. It's it's one of the most amazing sights in nature is to see that swarm of of birds basically all in unison, another one on one side, 300 metres over on the other side.
They're basically in cohesion, moving in the same rhythm, which is the sixth sense still today. I don't think we've we've grasped the the idea of how that actually happens. But unless you can get cars on the road to do that, your speed limits are going to have to be in place because it's almost, as you say, in a smart car and a not smart car interacting. There's always going to be the risk of of of the not smart car doing something that puts the other cars in danger.
So until we can get 100 percent of the cars working on the same level, I don't think we're going to see it. And you could say there is a solution of putting all the level five cars in one specific lane or fueling work together.
And then the car's not autonomous. They can go in the other. The thing with the the level five that will allow you to raise the speed limits because you could get a lot closer to the cars in front of you, the density of traffic is going to increase so much over the next few years or the next decades that we are going to have to find a way to get these cars closer together without reducing speed. So autonomous driving is one of the the solutions to that.
I think if we can get the cars more closer together without risking, you know, being safe because they're all intelligent, they understand how the distances needed and react to each other, that will improve. But I don't see a full system of autonomous driving cars working in the near future. It'll happen in the sky, I think, before it will happen on the ground.
Why don't we see I'm trying to think like what would be interesting here is like racing as autonomous vehicles, right? You have a close track, you have high speeds. You could, in theory, push the absolute limit of the car.
And then you're you're not competing on driving ability as much as improving sort of the technology. But you're sort of like then you change it from the human element of driving the car to sort of like the design engineering element. The level of competition becomes more about that, doesn't it?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you're anybody doing that? No, there's there is a formula E which is basically electric cars racing against each other. But the the concept that you're speaking about is pretty much letting cars race against each other without a pilot, without a driver. That is a good technology carrier or a way to to to come up with new ideas of how to do that and speed being a factor and all that. But there are still accidents happening there.
And those cars, yet the robo car, as they call them, hasn't really progressed to any level yet where where they're pretty much running on what we call EHI, where the cars learn the circuit and they can start to accelerate. We see that also with drone competitions where people are flying the drones. We have watched some of those.
They're crazy. Like the reflexes on these people are just it's amazing.
It's it's pretty exciting to watch. But you can see that they still have accidents and they still have a lot of issues to overcome. So we need some way of obviously of these new systems of moving forward, of mobility coming to fruition. But I think in the long run, it's going to take a lot more research, a lot more understanding of of nature, how they do it. It's it's one of the things I've been trying to to understand for a long time is, is how do they develop the sixth sense of knowing what the the other guy is doing as he's doing it?
It's just I don't want to say it's impossible because I've never like saying something is impossible. We have to dig deeper and find out, you know, how it actually occurs. But for me, it's one of the big mysteries. How do we get level five cars all at the same level at the same time?
But you also think I mean, the future of transportation is more in the air than on the ground.
I would say it's the future. I would say that it's an option. You know, the thing with ground transportation, if you already have the network for it, we have an infrastructure that will that is there. And obviously it can be improved and we need to improve it because we have so many traffic jams that are frustrated. Nobody wants to spend time just, you know, taking extra extra time to get somewhere. So we'll always be looking at ways to to move forward faster and safer in the future.
You know, they've they've got new concepts with high speed trains coming now and most in many countries. And we have also called Hyperloop system, which has been really considered as something that can come in the next few decades, very expensive. But it's a it's a very efficient way of traveling if they can nail it. But I do see the sky as being one of the big ways to to ease the flow or to get people from one place to another a lot quicker than we do today.
And as in everything, safety is key there. It's you know, we all see flying we saw flying in the past has been a little bit dangerous, but it's now become probably the the safest way, actually, statistically of getting from from A to B. But if we are to start flying what we call. In this new age of mobility, it will mean vehicles that can probably go shorter distances than plane or tend to go shorter distances than airplanes.
But how much of like what makes airplanes the safest is like there's been innovation in airplanes, but they sort of look the same as the 60s and they're heavily regulated. They're slow to change. And that's part of what's made it safe.
And so when we're talking about more innovative approaches, is is it a tension between that safety and inventing something new or how do you think about that?
Yeah, I mean, the thing that increases safety, the way the way they do it in aviation, at least, is they do they use something called redundancy, which means if something fails, they'll have a backup system. And and the chance of something failing is is is, you know, at a very high level of probability. So they use redundancy basically if something fails that shouldn't fail to have a backup backup system for it. But I think the innovation side of aviation hasn't been reached yet because we're still using ideas of aerodynamics that are pretty much, I'd say outdated still and not I mean, we're using lift wings for lift.
We're using propulsion methods that are still antiquated or not antiquated, but just haven't really pushed, pushed forward very much. The most innovation comes obviously from from the military, from military aviation, where planes are basically designed to be or these military aircraft are designed to be unstable so they can maneuver much more quickly. But there are there are innovations to be found in in in nature and birds to to to make planes look completely different and much more efficient than what we have today.
I wouldn't call planes today boring, but they're basically I would say, you know, you have most often in the commercial world a tube with a few wings attached to it. And obviously that's space efficient and it's easy to build and and to repair and to maintain. But at the same time, I think we're losing out a lot on what an aircraft in the future potentially could be used for or could look like. Yeah, and at the moment, we're going with manmade solutions pretty much.
And I think if we look in nature how they do it, wings aren't attached. They're basically growing out of a surface. It's it's a lot more efficient. Obviously, birds have different functions and different ways of of doing the task at hand. Not every animal or every organism does the the job with the same solution. They find different ways to to to achieve it. But there is an advantage, I think in in for example, what I'm working there, I've been working on in terms of aircraft design lately, recently is the the way of combining different shapes, nature to achieve a very efficient, functioning, flying object.
I won't go into too much detail, obviously, but the basic concept is that if you looked up into the sky and thought you were seeing a fish, then you're on the right track. Because what we spoke before, fish, fish are much more efficient at creating aerodynamic shapes or hydrodynamic shapes, actually. Then then planes are. So I think we're looking at the wrong direction. We should be looking under the sea is as opposed to looking at standard aerodynamic shapes.
We want to do new aircraft design.
Yeah, I think nature is like figured out a lot of things that and I've never heard the term sort of biomimicry before, but I, I think that resonates a lot with me in the sense that we don't we don't have to come up with everything new ourselves. We can look to nature for not only inspiration, but solving problems that we sort of have or giving us at least a placeholder for where to begin.
Yeah, I mean, nature is, you know, it's it's ah, there's nothing futuristic in nature. It's all there. All we have to do is peel back the layers and find out how they've managed to make something successful, because obviously in nature something is not well designed. It won't stick around for very long. So there are solutions in nature which which are surprising to us today. Obviously we're still looking at solutions that astound us, sort of fascinate us with that, that we think know magical almost in a way.
But again, the it kind of makes me wonder if, like, we could go back and look at animals that were extinct and look at and use them for inspiration, not in the sense that they didn't work, but they didn't work in a particular environment. And that particular environment, you know, might have changed or may be better suited to our needs today. The environment that we control a little bit more. Yeah, that's the I think, you know, you said it right there.
The key word is adaption. If you can't adapt, you're going to pretty much fail at the task at hand. You have to be in in the design world. We we can't stay with a solution that we've always had. It's always about finding a better way because there's competition out there. You know, it's a dog eat dog world out there. If you can't find a way to adapt and to change to to to find the solution for a new for any problem, then you're going to fall behind.
So it's all about state, like we said earlier, state relevant to the to the problem at hand.
Thank you so much, Frank. This has been an amazing conversation. I think that's a great place to end that. And I really appreciate you taking the time. Great. Thank you very much, Shane. You can find show notes on this episode, as well as every other episode at F-stop blog slash podcast, if you find this episode valuable, shared on social media and leave a review to support the podcast, go to F-stop logged membership and join our learning community.
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