I was putting my sons to bed after a busy weekend. Nights like this are a time to snuggle down and read aloud, time to enjoy each other’s company and relax. Sometimes its “Harry Potter” or “A series of Unfortunate Events”. The night was ending and “Concept Cars, From the 1930s to the Present” By: EDSALL LARRY was pulled down from the shelf.
I bought the book from a used bookstore to help my older son in his automotive illustration efforts. It was a reference book, for imagery only. This is what life is like in a household with two industrial designer parents. “How Things Work” is used as daily reading practice, and books like “Concept Cars” are littered throughout our house just in case they are needed.
I spent the last bit of the evening reading to them about Harley Earl and early car designs, about design offices at General Motors and the imagination involved in developing stunningly beautiful but not always functional concept cars. We discussed the combination of technological innovation and aesthetics. We pondered the need for both.
Talking to children is always eye opening. As I struggle to explain my take on reality, a child’s response is generally more poignant. My younger son interjected his real need a for self-driving car, and not just the concept of one. He keeps hearing they are coming, but when? His days are busy, bouncing from one activity to the next. He is only looking out for my needs by suggesting that he use the self-driving car independently. It made me wonder how many of the designers working on these cars have peered ahead to consider the days when a 7-year-old will be sitting alone in a self-driving car. As a busy working parent, I can’t deny the temptation.
My older son instead pondered the materials used in model making. He reviewed his personal experiences with clay and foam. Images of 1980’s automotive designers bent over model cars with CNC bits suspended off long arms, over sized calipers stretching wide, and curved edge ribs roused his imagination. How difficult would it be, he wondered, to truly achieve symmetry? I tried to explain the use of some of the tools in the photographs. He was done listening. We had reached the point in the evening where their minds float off to sleep or even deeper into philosophical wanderings.
I headed down to my own evening routine with their words tumbling in my brain. I became an industrial designer, inspired by my own hopes for the future. I wanted to reach real people with a little more beauty and thoughtfulness than before. As time has passed and I have moved through various stages, I struggle with the balance between need and want. I will always ponder the space between technological advances and the place of human comfort. Listening is one of my greatest skills, when I remember to use it. Designing for mass requires study of the human condition. There is a constant pull towards the new, but with the ridiculously heavy burden to remain within “the known”. Children embody this, perfectly. Their security needs are more primal and their imaginations far greater, but using a child’s perspective as guidance can be absolutely inspiring.