Bright Young Things: Detroit's Top Young Car Designers

Joe Vaughn

As a child, Jung wanted to be an architect largely because of an architect uncle, but she ultimately decided that buildings "were too big." After she started at Art Center in 1997, Jung came to think of "a car as a small building" - an imaginative point of view that has the virtue of being absolutely true when you think about it, although I had never heard it so expressed. She has interesting insights in a number of other areas, including thinking of the car as a destination, not simply the means of reaching one. "It is necessary now to spend more time in a car, so it might as well be a third home," Jung says (the first two being your dwelling and your work space). She sees much greater application of electronics, voice-activated controls, and all the other things that are actually possible now but are only sporadically applied.

Hewlett, a CCS graduate, was a multimedia artist "who wanted differences to come together in harmony." As a former jewelry designer, she is concerned with finer details and thinks car interiors don't get the attention they deserve today. "The unexpected, the surprises in cross-functionality, the converging solutions - all that is just a start," Hewlett says.

Curious about what these young designers drive, I found that Hewlett has a Volvo XC70, Kim a Land Rover LR3, and Jung the first car she ever bought, a Jeep Wrangler. "I brought it with me from California. It's a toy car, and I love it." That's not so different from what it was like when I was a young designer and most of the new Detroit hires had Austin-Healeys, Porsches, Volkswagens, and other imported cars rather than domestic vehicles.

Lou Gasevski, 26, is another import. At Chrysler for two and a half years, he graduated from CCS in the same class as the three Hummer designers and was the principal interior designer of the Dodge Zeo concept car at the Detroit show. Born in Macedonia, he came to the United States in 1998 with almost no English, learning it through evening classes. Clearly he learned well, as he is the most articulate designer in this group of seven outstanding young professionals. He also speaks Serbian, Bulgarian, and his native Macedonian and understands Russian. Like Jablonski, he is married. He comes from an artistic family - his grandfather was a painter, and his father, with a masters degree in art, owned a printing company. Ljupco (he changed his legal name to Lou when he became a U.S. citizen) attended a specialized art high school and expected a career in graphics and print-making in Macedonia, but Balkan turmoil put an end to all that.

Once again, a teacher in Rochester encouraged a talented student's artistic bent and led Gasevski to CCS in Detroit, and once again, the sight of model cars and renderings fired an impulse to join the ranks of car creators. The fact that one high school could produce a couple of car designers at the same time mirrors my own experience. During the 1950s, five of us who ended up at GM had gone to the same Los Angeles high school at about the same time, our automotive interests encouraged by a teacher who allowed Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild model-making to be a legitimate wood shop project. We tended to be greasy-fingernail, work-on-cars people then, something that has essentially disappeared as a possibility for young designers. Fortunately, perceptive high school teachers are still with us, to the good of the industry.

One theme that arose from our discussions is the importance of design software to neophytes in the business. Most drawing is now done on electronic tablets, not paper. "Shoe designers now build twenty shoes in a day with instant prototyping," Gasevski says, "and we need to be able to realize three-dimensional objects as quickly, perhaps with holograms, things we can see in three dimensions even if we can't touch them."

This group of attractive, intelligent, thoughtful, and highly skilled young people have also accepted the idea of "green" cars, believing that it is and will be important for designers to think about societal needs as well as about cars as dynamic sculptural objects. Nobody cared about environmental issues when Detroit was at its peak, but even then, neophyte designers thought (against the grain) about increasing safety and reducing the size and weight and aerodynamic drag of cars. We have won on safety and gained in drag reduction, but today's cars make 1950s behemoths look like lightweights. That will change as a new generation of engineers face up to the mandate of the new 35-mpg CAFE standard. And when they do, there will be a new crop of skilled, experienced, and not yet jaded or fatigued designers to give them form.

The automotive industry may be in trouble, but automobile design today is not.

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