The year of the cat

As Jaguar launches its new X-Type 2-litre V6 model this week, Sara Manuelli rides up to the Coventry headquarters to meet the brains behind the hard work

Jaguar’s director of design Ian Callum is living his childhood dream.

Since he was five years’ old, he used to play with models of Jaguar cars or draw sketches to reinvent the British classic sports car. You could argue that because he has reached his goal, there is very little left for him to try to achieve, yet Callum rejoices at the challenges that a job connected to such a heritage brand brings. A life spent in the automotive industry hasn’t dampened his spirit either.

Trained in vehicle design at the Royal College of Art, he was at Ford for ten years, working his way up the company and taking posts at the several design studios abroad. He spent another ten years at TWR Design, as chief designer and general manager, and since 1999 he has been located at Jaguar’s Coventry headquarters.

He was, he recalls, originally employed as ‘director of styling’, but his pragmatism and in-depth knowledge of the car industry meant that he was soon asked to become head of design, with the styling department recognised as a design department. ‘Although we don’t do the engineering, we have to know everything about it; then there is ergonomics involved, the packaging and the very architecture of the car,’ explains Callum

Jaguar’s design department is part of the overall product development area, comprising about 2500 people. And Callum runs a tight ship with a team of about 120 people, equally split into designers, digital and clay modellers with surface and feasibility engineers.

Yet Callum’s role isn’t confined to just vehicle design. Under a directive of J Mays, vice-president of design at Ford Worldwide, it has been made an overall Ford policy that design departments have a say, and in some cases a sign-off, to most aspects of the visual outward facing elements of the design process, from corporate identity through to the car itself. ‘Our function however, is not to necessarily produce all the elements, but to approve them,’ says Callum.

So far, Jaguar’s main external collaborations have been with Imagination for its motor show exhibitions, The Partners for branding and Young & Rubicam for advertising. No major shake up as regards appointments is planned, although small, developing criteria such as touch-screen technology within the interiors might require appointment of new design consultancies.

‘The reason I’m looking outside is because I’ve learnt that a designer has to respect one thing, that is to do what he is best at and do it well, and leave other functions for other people who are best at theirs,’ Callum says. Learning ‘to call the experts in’ can be a stimulating exchange; an area in which he has done exactly that is in product design with some car designers, which he won’t name. Historically though, he admits that Jaguar has been quite self-contained, farming very little work out to independent designers.

However, there is a sense things could change, although maybe not in the high-profile way Ford did with Marc Newson. Recently, Jaguar commissioned a research project with Seymour Powell focusing on how various functions of a car work better. ‘They produced some super ideas,’ says Callum. ‘The only problem is that once you analyse them there are some cost implications.’

Callum is a firm believer in the power of the Jaguar brand and in the futuristic design ethos that made it such a desirable item in the past. For him, the archetypal values of Jaguar can be found in the late 1950s and 1960s, with icons such as the E-Type and the Mk II ‘a sports saloon car designed while companies like BMW were producing boring boxes.’ However, he acknowledges that the bold, design verve stopped around 1967, when the car industry went ‘into international meltdown’ and production became so tied by laws and legislation that it was impossible to continue producing such daring, sensuous shapes.

His mission is to return to that pioneering spirit and to recreate a set of Jaguar values that comprise ‘performance, character, spirit and British design tradition’. Differing brand perceptions across the globe is also a consideration. Jaguar’s main market is undoubtedly the US, where the brand is perceived as ‘very English, slightly off-centre, quaint, with 40 per cent of customers being women.’

In Europe, the main competitors are BMW and Mercedes and Jaguar’s current aim is to delve further into the European market. Callum is confident in Britain’s design heritage, which, as Burberry and Paul Smith have shown, ‘can be turned on its head with some humour’.

Callum is a man in the right position and the right time. He joined the company at a moment of uncertainty, but has now been given free reign to push the boat out further. Last September, in Frankfurt, Jaguar launched the R Coupe four-seater prototype, which captured all the elements (iconic design, luxury and heritage, married with contemporary style) that Callum is trying to bring back to the fore. He calls it ‘my statement of intent’ and stresses how important it was that his manifesto of design philosophy was made public, as a way of gaining confidence within Jaguar’s management and allowing design to move forward.

Meanwhile, last week saw the launch of the new X-Type 2-litre V6 model, a new addition to the X-Type range with a price tag of under £20 000. In design terms Jaguar’s profile is certainly higher than it was ten years ago, mainly due to a shift of brand perception among the public.

However, Callum knows there is still a lot of work to do and is keen to keep his eyes and ears open. He visits the Ford London Design Enterprise twice a month, and has two Jaguar designers there on-site. Although he says it is still early days to make an assessment of the validity of the centre, the multidisciplinary approach and network ‘of old friends’ excite him and entertain him, allowing him to further pursuit ‘another point of view.’

Ian Callum’s CV

Born: Dumfries, Scotland 30 July 1954

Education: BA industrial design degree, Glasgow School of Art; MA design degree, Royal College of Art in London

Career: 1979-1990. Various assignments in Ford Motor Company’s international studios in UK, US, Germany, Japan, Australia (1979-1988), design manager, Ghia Studio, Turin (1988-1990) and studio manager in Dunton (1990)

1990-1999 General manager and chief designer at TWR Design

1999-present director of design at Jaguar

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