Mike Robinson: interview with a versatile designer – 2nd Part


Here there is the first part of the interview with Mike Robinson, Brand Manager and Chief Designer in Bertone.

You always create futuristic designs and as a source of inspiration you have the historical Bertone masterpieces. How do you think the design world will evolve in the next 10 years?  Will the car remain the same object that we know today?
In 10 years from now cars will be almost identical to today’s cars. Think of a 2020 car and one today.

Are they profoundly different? Nope.
Maybe there is a higher percentage today of cars with onboard navigation systems, with ABS, or other electronic gadgets, but the sedans are still sedans, SUVs are still SUVs, etc.. The future that you mention will begin in 20, even 50 years. Just do the math.

If a client entrusts us with a project to design a new car today, the commercial launch will take place in 3 years, in 2015. Then the normal life for a car is 6 years. We are in 2021.

So every time I put my pencil on the paper (unless it is a concept car), the object that results will still be sold in car dealers 9 or 10 years later. That’s why we say designers live in the future.
To be able to design for the future with authority our references must be very different from those used by the man-on-the-street. He compares everything he sees with what he has in his garage. Designers compare the things around them with what they will be seeing in 10 or 20 years. And the world is changing even faster. It is said that the 14 million cars bought in China last year will become 40 million cars per year in 2030. This means there won’t be enough gasoline to drive them or enough sheet  metal to build them. Then what?

We are now beginning to prepare for the day when individual transport will be 100% free of gasoline and sheet metal. Most believe that the classic substitute for sheet metal is plastic, but all plastics used today are produced from crude oil. Then, what will we do with traffic congestion? Arriving at the airport in Beijing this morning at 10 am (therefore not rush hour) we did the whole one hour drive in stop-and-go traffic in my taxi. Try to imagine the same route in 20 years when the amount of vehicles in China will almost quadrupled. Either we must make double or triple layer streets (like they do in Japan), or they will have to knock down skyscrapers to make room for four times more roads (very unlikely).

The best solution I believe is the elimination of the steering wheel. In this way each car will travel 1 millimeter from the one that proceeds it and the one following it. In this virtual car chain (or car train if you prefer) all cars will be controlled by a global integrated mobility system, where cars will talk between themselves without disturbing their passengers.
They will travel at 200, even 300 km/h in perfect safety, instead of stop-and-go speeds full of rear-end collisions like today. We could then introduce ten times the amount of cars on every road without causing congestion or accidents. What form will these cars of the future have? It will be perfectly useless to build 1000hp sports cars  to demonstrate user virility. Engines will no longer be under the hood (they will be hidden in the 4 wheels).
Bumpers and all safety structures will no longer be necessary as there will be no more accidents. We could travel in glass bubbles. It will be a major responsibility of all creative car designers to reinvent the automobile as we know it today. Don’t hold your breath though. These things will take time, even if the world changes faster and faster.

What does it take to be a good car designer?
A touch of madness, of rule-breaking spirit, of masochism, and especially a giant ego. Great image, huh? Designers are often despised in the industry: by engineers, by management, by beancounters, etc..
Why? Because they are undisciplined, they think out-of-the-box, and they consequently reach unimaginable results. Try to force them to stay inside the corporate cage and they’ll simply stop producing. They’ll only offer boring, banal, predictable, unsellable solutions. Free them, invite them to do crazy things, et voila, they start producing the masterpieces that make sales records. What’s more, only 2% of a designer’s work can actually be used. The rest is just warm-up.

Therefore 100 designs are necessary in order to have 2 beautiful ideas. That’s their job, so put them to work. I often tell design students that the best way to become a young designer is to choose their parents well. DNA doesn’t lie.
The best design schools cannot replace a strong dose of genetically rooted creativity. “Nurturing ” can certainly help “Nature”, but it cannot replace it.





A great designer is half researcher and half artist.
An insatiable thirst for knowledge is the first sign of a great designer. Research, experiment, make mistakes, try again, infinitely. This is how innovation is born. Then, once you’ve discovered something special, you must explain/illustrate it to others. Here the artist steps in. The better you can define your dreams, the more chances you’ll have to transform them into reality.
Here are some attributes found in great designers:

  • Perseverance: never give up, even when everyone tells you that your idea sucks. They also told Galileo the same thing when he tried to explain the relationship between the moon and tides. Great designer…
  • Ambition: anyone who doesn’t have big dreams cannot create the future. A man with a mission knows no obstacles.
  • Passion: you must use your heart as much as the head. Enthusiasm is often the best way to make your ideas contagious. Maybe they will not understand your ideas (innovations tend to scare people) but they will understand that you believe deeply in what you’re saying.
  • Team work: no one can do it all by him or herself in an industry as complex the automobile industry. Being able to contribute without overpowering it is a sign of inner strength and not of weakness.
  • Leadership: be an example for others, with your actions and your results. A leader’s communication drags others over to their ideas, like a good salesman. The more innovative the idea is, the better the salesman must be to get the idea accepted.
  • Humbleness: it’s paradoxical to ask a super-egotist designer also be humble, but it’s important. The my young creative designers at Bertone are great, but they all need help to make their bright ideas feasible. As soon as they become excellent at 2D (sketches, etc.) must learn to be equally excellent at 3D (physical models). Then they must learn to manage other designers as project leaders, and finally, you’ll get to manage design managers, like me, becoming a Design Director.You never stop learning, thankfully.

 …the third part!

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