Interview: Tim Pilsbury - Interior Car Design

July 6, 2010

Interview: Tim Pilsbury - Interior Car Design

I was able to get in touch with Senior Designer Tim Pilsbury to ask him a few questions about his work as an interior car designer. In the past he has worked for Nissan Design America and SEAT Design in Spain. He happily indulged me before leaving to China for his new position at Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

When did you know that you wanted to be a car designer?

I was at high school and we were on a school visit to London and we visited what was then called the Design Council of Great Britain in Haymarket, London, in the book store I purchased a copy of the Japanese publication Car Styling. I had all but decided to study product design and this purchase took me off in a slightly different direction. Then again, the car design trail may have started earlier, when I was 5 years old I drew a full size car on the bedroom wall with Police written on the side. My parents thought that I would become a police officer, but little did they know...

Interior Car Design

Where did you go to school? Did you study design?

I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to study design at high school and this then led me to Coventry University where I studied Industrial design (trans). Upon completion of this degree I was offered a place at the Royal College of Art in London to study a masters degree in Car Design. However, an interesting offer came my way from the car company Austin Rover, they offered to sponsor my studies at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena USA. So I studied transportation design at Art Center (ACCD).

What is your current title?

I will be starting a new employment next Monday at Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) in Shanghai, China. I will have a Senior Designer position, essentially running the Interior Design Department under the leadership of the SAIC Design Director Mr. Ken Ma.

You've worked for V-Vehicle and were also previously at Nissan Design America, what's been your favorite parts of working for either or both of these companies?

My last employment was with V-Vehicle in San Diego. This was a fantastic experience, I got to participate in the start up of a new OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and all of the experiences that come with that. As a senior designer at VVC I had a lot of responsibility leading the interior design from initial sketch to production ready vehicle in a record breaking time under the direction of one of the worlds most accomplished designers, Mr. Tom Matano.

Nissan Design America (NDA) was very much like any large OEM satellite studio, a lot of resources and some very talented designers. Prior to NDA I worked in Spain at SEAT Design and still remember this as one of my favorite experiences, here a small team of designers working under the stewardship of Walter De Silva delivered a complete overhaul of the vehicle lineup building a design led, desirable brand.

Interior Car Design

Do you specialize in certain types of vehicles, sports cars vs minivans? Is there a large difference between designing for the two, or are the designs somewhat scalable?

I have tended to specialize in vehicle interior design. I personally find it more challenging and rewarding, when you finally get to sit in the vehicle and you see all of these surfaces and components that all have a common design thread running through them you definitely get a feeling of achievement. I also have to admit that I love nothing more than sketching exterior design proposals when I get the chance.

How do exterior and interior designers work together?

They don't really "work" together, but Interior and exterior designers usually sit in the same studio and get to see and comment on each others work and one inspires the other so to speak.

Interior Car Design

What is a typical day in the life of a car designer, or is there one?

The untypical days are the best ones, for example, when a new exciting project is announced, you can feel the buzz it creates.

What sorts of things are taken into consideration and how much, when designing? Safety, style, comfort?

All vehicles have to be comfortable and safe and the styling works around theses considerations. The user group is usually defined before the project starts or defining the user group can be part of exploratory projects. Ergonomics, materials, and tactile quality are highly considered during the design process.

Why do concept cars look so innovative and the final consumer product so ordinary?

Concept cars are usually done quickly with a short creative surge and a big budget. The final production vehicle takes far longer and has to pass through many more filters on it's way to the consumer. Having said that, there are some notable examples of interiors arriving to the consumer in much the same form as the concept vehicle. Audi has managed this on several occasions, the previous Audi TT and the recently launched A1.

Interior Car Design

What things in the world inspire your designs? Nature? Architecture?

I always find furniture and product design very inspiring, these disciplines are very close to vehicle interior design. Images and photos from nature and science are another source of inspiration.

Are there designers that inspire you?

I love the space age aesthetic in Ross Lovegrove' work, and the minimalism and purity in the work of Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa. The great work that Dieter Rams did for Braun design amongst others is always on my mind.

What is changing in the automotive design landscape?

Since the Automotive Industry turmoil caused in part by the financial crisis, there have been many exciting new start ups in the United States like V-vehicle, Tesla and Fisker Automotive. These new young companies are pushing for a more innovative aesthetic to showcase there technology, this in turn is leading to more interesting work from the OEM's. Technology, skills and new business models are speeding up the Design process which brings a greater variety of work and larger product lines.

Do you have advice for someone who might be interested in getting into the car designing field?

To succeed one must be truly dedicated and passionate about design and willing to spend many many hours honing ideas and skills. I also think that one needs to be inspired by all that is around you.

Anything else you can think of to share?

I believe strongly in design education and I am preparing my on-line course for Trans 6 at the Art Academy University in San Francisco. Technology will help make a design education available to anyone anywhere in the world that has an internet connection which I think is amazing.

Tori Bishop

Tori Bishop

I'm Tori. I am a freelance graphic designer with interests that span all aspects of design, art, science and music. I keep myself busy with my small graphic design business ToriTori Creative. I also enjoy being exhibits director and an executive member of Phoenix Design Week, writing for and rehabilitating vintage furniture. Follow my exceedingly exciting life on Twitter @catchatori.

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