Ford's Three Kings Of Design Dictate Global Style, Unify Ford Design

By Blake Z. Rong | August 07, 2012
It's good to be the king. There are only three men that are in charge of designing every single Ford and Lincoln sold around the world: J Mays (second from left), Martin Smith (third from right) and Moray Callum (on the right). They plan global Ford styling, the company's design language, and develop product lines up to ten years in advance. And when the Three Kings get together every quarter for their JMM meetings—named after their first initials—they can dictate the success and potential failure of Ford in an entire regional market. After all, what use is a good car if it doesn't look the part first? Recently, the three went to Australia to sort out some of Ford's troubles. Design has been a rare bright spot in Ford's Australian fortunes: production cuts and flagging sales of the iconic Falcon—seemingly the one unassailable Colossus in Ford's lineup—is causing many Ford executives to be concerned, even with the rumor that Ford will cut all Australian production in a few years. But design-wise, Ford's Australia studio has grown from 50 people to 150. Many of the studios have been renovated with advanced virtual reality systems that allow designers to sit in virtual interiors without hand-fabricating them first. And Ford divides the world into two sections: Martin Smith runs studios on three continents, in Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as the Australian studio (so, ok, four continents). The man we're concerned with, Moray Callum—whose brother Ian pens upscale Jaguars, which must make for entertaining family reunions—runs Ford in North and South America. And J Mays is in charge here; the designer of the Focus, GT and Mustang, he supervises over 1,100 designers scattered around the globe. And today, more than ever, their jobs are to coordinate designs across the globe as part of the One Ford plan, which aims to sell cars with one unifying design language and the same platform across the world. No design goes past the three. There are no other brands—Mazda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Volvo, and the bygone Mercury—to distract them from Ford's and Lincoln's core products. And their integration of Ford design, as cheesy as this may sound, is a reflection of their longstanding work friendships and years working with each other. "Design is not a black-and-white process," says Mays. "It creeps along. What is great is that we now communicate in a consistent, disciplined way. We have design reviews with everyone looking at global programs, and inevitably each studio takes back something that they’ve seen to take them to the next level." Their mantra is, "we want a Ford to be instantly recognized as a Ford, anywhere on Earth." Which is far different than the years we in North America saw Ford's three-bar design, which never looked as slick or handsome as Ford's European products. Enthusiasts clamored for the European Focus while consumers wondered why the Five Hundred (remember that?) looked like an airbrushed car on a used-car lot sign. "Four years ago," said Mays, "Martin, Moray and I asked, 'Would it be a crazy idea to make every car beautiful?' Everything we work on now, we ask, ‘Are we just provoking the customer or are we seducing the customer?’ We’re out to seduce the customer, and I think getting better and better at it all the time." There aren't many companies that unify their global designs to such an extreme, but Ford's Global Design Language—first shown in 2011 on the Evos concept—is clearly working dividends on the new Fusion we're getting here. And there's a premium bent that Mays wants for us in America: whether that's successful or not goes to be shown, but the Fusion does look more expensive than most cars in the mid-size class. And that's a good start. "Within the next-generation design language, we have an aspiration to premium-ness," said Mays. "That’s the new direction for Ford. Putting a cute name on a design language is very mass-market. We’re going to continue to sell to our Ford customers, but we want to give them a premium experience." Source: Ward's Auto