Car design depends on teamwork, in sharp contrast to the social distancing the coronavirus pandemic has imposed. How does smart working change creative activity? What consequences will it have on the form of tomorrow’s cars? Auto&Design has asked these questions of carmaker design chiefs and independent style centres. Today is the turn of Ian Cartabiano, President at ED2 design center, Toyota Europe Design Development.

How have you organised your work during this period of lockdown?

ED2 has been working from home since the French Government asked that all non-essential businesses to allow their employees to work from home. We had been planning contingency plans for the last four weeks assuming that home confinement orders would come from the Government. So, we had set up systems to allow our team to work securely and connected from home for this period. In addition, our studio was fortunate in that we had just finished our physical 3D properties, and are currently in a research and sketch phase for new projects. Our studio has an agile, digital tool focused process of working, so we are still able to check data, sketches, and concepts all within a secure network.

Although as a design team working from home creates new challenges, at least this work is possible to carry out in this situation. Now, because we are not in the same environment, we communicate online much more daily, but, we have also reduced review meetings to once a week. I am giving the Chief Designers more direct control over what their teams do and how they go about achieving their targets during the week. We are also in constant contact with Toyota Design HQ in Japan, so all global teams remain coordinated. One big difference, our daily communication involves a morning check-in to see how everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing are, both with the team members and their families. ED2 is a small, close knit team, and as part of Toyota, our team member’s health and safety are our number one priority.

Do you think this way of working will influence the products of the future?

When this period ends, I think we will emerge with a more streamlined, online internal communication and sharing process. I think how we draw a car will not change too much for us, as ED2 is already an agile environment to create, whether its analogue or digital. I do think we’ll have new tools regarding how to review, how to share sketches, and how to share thoughts within the design teams. I also think this experience will compel us to become even more focused on creating clear targets and goals at the start of projects. We have found that during this Work From Home period, clear and concise communication is key. I do think that for creative teams, working together in a studio environment is always to best way to level up design creativity and design solutions. This is what we are missing the most now, and what we are challenging ourselves to create in this current period.

Have you brought specific tools from the studio or can you do everything with normal PCs?

All team members have their work laptops with them at home that are connected to our secure network. They have the software to ensure a creative workflow. All of the designers have their Wacom normal tablets or Cintiques with them. Of course, there is always paper and pencil/pen/marker (my favourite way to create).

How will the shapes of the cars you design change during this period?

I think we’ll see a burst of creativity when we are all physically working together again. I can imagine that designers will be more pure in their expression of what they want to see in automotive design. I’m excited to see what creative ideas emerge from these weeks of social isolation. My wish is that we’ll see an optimistic expression of design that is hopeful about the future.

How much is inspiration from the outside important for a designer?

I think that as a designer, outside inspiration is crucial to challenge existing norms in automotive design. It is a worry for me that in this period, we cannot get out to see the world, experience art in three dimensions, or talk to our customers who drive our designs in the first place. Luckily, we also live in an expansive digital world, where new inspiration is just a word search away. When we return to ED2, I have asked each of our designers to come back to the studio with their own research and presentation of new form/shape/graphic/material language. I’m really excited to see what they come up with.