Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Ian Callum, Design Director, Jaguar Cars - Design is the Trump Card

Ian Callum, Design Director, Jaguar, launching the 2010 Jaguar XJ

Ian Callum, Design Director, Jaguar Cars is in fighting form, clear that design is the trump card – not only for Jaguar but for the nation.

“It is my firm belief that design and manufacture could be the answer to our economic problems given the intellectual and creative capacity represented in that.”

He believes passionately that we can design ourselves out of recession.

“These days people do not simply buy what they need, they buy what they like. We are now in the privileged position that we are able to buy what we like and design is key to that, but some leaders in industry still see design as simply the styling that is the ‘icing on top of the cake’”.

UK Automotive

2010 Jaguar XJ - post launch sales success
Having spent his career in automotive design he’s fiercely proud of our UK car-making achievements and pedigree. Given Jaguar’s recent results he has every reason to feel pleased - 2010 first half sales were buoyed up by the newly-launched XJ which, after its first full month on sale, outsold the Mercedes S Class and the BMW 7-Series in the UK. During the same period XF sales increased almost 50% and XK sales were up over 60% year on year.

Ian feels strongly that Jaguar Cars and UK automotive aren’t properly recognised for their contribution – in terms of employment, value added, technology, luxury brand appeal, performance, or in short, overall design.

“I have a strong sense of aggravation that our government, both at national and local levels, does not appreciate the value of manufacturing in the UK.

"There was an attitude that ‘money begat money’ and money was not made from manufacturing – we had become too sophisticated for that. But it’s only recently that Germany has been overtaken by China in terms of the value of their manufacturing export, which is huge.

“So why can’t we be a little more humble and get back to making things...taking something out of the ground and turning it into something of value as we have done in the potteries, for example, for centuries."

It’s hard not to be impressed by this business. Ian’s design team together with the Jaguar Design Studios are located at Jaguar Engineering in Whitley, Coventry, where 2,500 people are employed out of a total Jaguar Land Rover workforce of 16,000.

Jaguar Pedigree

Founded in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company by motorcycle enthusiasts Sir William Lyons and William Walmsley, the ‘SS Jaguar’ name first appeared in 1935 on a 2.5 litre saloon.

Design has always been at the heart of Jaguar’s DNA and the company’s reputation was sealed with a string of eye-catching sports cars including the XK 120 of 1949, which developed into XK 140 and XK 150, and the much loved E-Type classic of 1961, designed by aero-dynamicist, Malcolm Sayer. The sales slogan ‘Grace, Space, Pace’ encapsulated the firm’s design ethos and led to record sales successes for the MK VII, IX, Marks I and II saloons and later the XJ6.

Ian points out that despite car production being regarded as passé in government circles UK auto production has in fact been relatively stable in recent times and, although it has fluctuated, it has been in or around one and a half million for most of the past decade. Last year the West Midlands produced just short of 300,000 cars.

West Midlands Luxury Niche

Whilst this is a far cry from the region’s heyday of volume production (with considerable restructuring having taken place following the high profile plant closures at MG Rover, Longbridge in 2005 and Peugeot Ryton, Coventry in 2006), since then the West Midlands has carved out a reputation for luxury niche brands including Land Rover, Aston Martin, Morgan, and London Taxi sitting alongside Jaguar. Bentley is produced in Crewe to the North and most of Formula One Motorsport located in and around the wider Midlands with a focus in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.

Latest figures from Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) show that luxury car brands have indeed been enjoying a renaissance.  Jaguar sales leapt 11% in August 2010 with sales at Aston Martin trebling in the month as well as over the past two years, Bentley’s sales doubled last month and Land Rover sales are up 61% year-to-date.

Ian Callum, Design Director, Jaguar Cars -
'UK auto has the best design studios in the world'

“Our MPs think automotive manufacturing is old fashioned and that the Germans, for example, do it so much better than we do. But we have the best design studios in the world.”

Within Ian’s design team, ongoing design work is handled in their Product Design Studio. Blue-sky thinking, or the more lateral creative mix of design and engineering, takes place in the Advanced Design Studio, or as Ian puts it, “the place where all the rules are broken!”

“Every business should have an advanced design studio – part design and part engineering – to do the broader thinking about the future direction for products. Too few businesses are doing this. Lots of companies will go outside and get ideas and because they are paying more for consultants they will expect answers quickly. But often quick answers are not the solution – free thought is needed to develop new ideas and this can take time.”


One of the trends the sector is grappling with at the moment is the move towards smaller cars. Figures released by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association show the market share for smaller cars in Europe increased from 39% in 2008 to 45% between January and November, 2009.

As Ian puts it, “the world is down-sizing, less mass, less weight, Jaguar’s frames are made of aluminium which helps of course – but people want smaller cars as cities are crowded and space is at a premium. My personal view is that Jaguar should do a much smaller car, perhaps the size of a Mini – but this is someway off.”


The car industry was one of the first businesses to recognise the need for different designs and ideas to refresh their approach and drive sales demand.

Ian Callum, 'function comes first,
then how to clothe it in the style of the day'
  “Automotive recognised early on that it is in fact a fashion business. The car industry is constantly trying to re-invent itself and because lead times are so long we have to think more creatively before we even start making anything.

"In the ‘50s US car companies came out with a new design every year – driven by fashion. Today cars are so much more complex that you can’t do that. We work on a 3-4 year lead time but we are juggling with expectations, tolerances, colours, styles and predicting our customers’ desires in these areas 3-4 years hence.”

Legislating Design  

According to Ian a lot of today’s legislation is creating its own aesthetic. For example, boot lids are high because of aero-dynamic demands. Front ends are designed for pedestrian protection. “However” he adds, “function always comes first – then how to clothe it in the taste of the day.

Looking back, some of our previous classic designs couldn't be made in today’s environment.

"The E-Type, for example, is beautiful because it is visually correct. It is clearly a car of the ‘60s. Malcolm Sayer, who came from the aerospace industry, created cars he felt would go through the air effectively. However, it was only later that the impact of the rolling road on the aero dynamics was fully understood, so this was not fully taken into account at the time. The legals today would prevent a design like this ever coming to market. However I love these design classics and their design integrity.”

Ian’s personal interests offer further insights into his abiding passion for design.

He speaks about his honorary membership of RIBA and an intense dislike of poor architectural design, especially at that most local of levels, housing development. “Why do we insist on developing mediocre housing estates which are an insult to our very intelligence as a nation. For example, to expect people to live in mock Tudor homes is such laziness.”

He becomes animated when describing his love of drag-racing recounting a chance meeting with an elderly lady who stopped him in the street to complement him on his classic ‘Austin Ruby’ only to look rather non-plussed when, after a few pleasantries, he revved up the car’s V-8 engine and pulled off in his 1932 Ford Model B ‘Hot Rod’.

Jaguar Cars:

Beverley Nielsen
3rd September 2010

Ian Callum Designing a Jaguar -

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