Mike Robinson: interview with a versatile designer – 3rd Part

Mike Robinson

Third and final part of the interview with Mike Robinson, Brand Manager and Chief Designer by Bertone. The first part will find it here as this is the second.

Recently you also assumed the responsibility of the transportation design department? Do you think this area can improve, change substantially in the near future? What are the your suggestions?
Taking on the responsibility of the world of transportation design is a fascinating challenge. I have always worked on many types of projects throughout my career: cars, trucks, yachts, etc.
I even designed a maglev train for my University thesis project (centuries ago). What is a changing this profession is a gradual shift from the world of designing objects to the designing experiences. Experiential Design is still seen in the field of car design as a threat rather than a salvation, while in the train design world it is much more recognized and appreciated. Just think about the fact that today there are 4 classes of tickets for modern, high-speed trains. Four very different experiences between them, to justify the differences between of the four ticket prices.

Today the trains biggest enemy is the airplane and not the car, as travel times begin to overlap.
Airports have VIP lounges, the duty-free, shopping centers, in general, a refined and modern environment. Most train stations are rather the opposite: old, dirty, disorganized, full of homeless, etc.. This is Experiential Design.

I recently traveled in a high-speed train from the Beijing South Railway Station (a new station built for the ’08 Olympics) to Tianging. The train station was like an airport, with departures upstairs and arrivals downstairs. The fully electronic check-in takes passengers directly to the train, which has its floor perfectly flush with the polished floor of the station.
Departure exactly at 12.00, a silent ride at 300km/h, with the arrival exactly at 13:00. Italy has a lot to learn from the much more advanced Chinese national railway system.

I see the opportunity to do many “crossover” projects between train design and car design, exporting the merits of both.

You always surround yourself with young designers who dream one day of becoming like you. What do you do for their professional growth?
The very young designers in my team are selected with great care.
I believe that the best way to make them grow, hoping each and every one of them will achieve a position of responsibility like mine one day, is to make them work hard, very hard. I demand a lot from them, because I know they have great skills and great potential.

This assumption already puts them in a positive light, but it’s not enough. As I mentioned earlier, the creative designer cannot be tied to a desk and forced to produce. They must be motivated to produce results, because they are designers  (capricious, insecure, and explosive), and because they are human (subject to positive and negative stimuli, inside and outside of work).

The thing I appreciated most when I was a young designer was the autonomy my boss gave me linked to my responsibilities. This combination produces errors surely, given the inexperience of youth, but if they are monitored and addressed quickly, they can be transformed into “lessons learned” accelerating the learning of each of them.

I know that we do not live in a perfect world, and that I could do a lot more for my designers, but I’d need a couple of clones and several more hours each day. I think the most important quality of a leader is loyalty and fairness towards his or her colleagues. They know if you’re right with them or not. I publicly defend them and praise them, and privately scorn them if necessary.
In the office, mutual respect is worth much more than friendship. Outside we can be friends, but inside we have to rely on each other, day after day.


jag b99 side

jag b99 side


There is a star system in the world of design in general, especially in the world of car design.
Who would not want to be famous like Walter De Silva or J. Mays. These personalities are admired by all designers, in design schools and in design centers around the world. Obviously there are very few design positions at these levels, and often those who become a car design star do so because he or she has extraordinary intelligence.

Fortune has very little to do with these design giants. I encourage young designers to focus on “being” and not “appearing”. Too many young people want to skip vital steps to become a star as soon as possible, to get fame and fortune.
Well, in car design, there are many more “unsung heros” (the talented designers hidden behind the scenes without famous names) than rich superstars. If you do your job well good things will come to you.
If you try to pretend to be a superstar designer, your “stardom” (assuming that you managed to obtain some) will last very shortly. I have seen so many designers rise rapidly and then fall hard!

Moving from rags to riches is very pleasant. The opposite is far less. I personally tried both so I know what it means, with fans stopping you in the streets asking for an autograph when things are going well, and then being ignored by fans and colleagues alike in times of misfortune.

It ‘s much better to have actively participated in many successful projects (in terms of both design and sales, which are often linked together), even without the fame, than to have thousands of friends on Facebook. In 50 or 100 years people will remember the first group and certainly not the second.


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