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Ford renews design links with The Cleveland Institute of Art

02 May 2002 | by Unknown

May 2, 2002 – Ask students at one of the country’s top design schools what cars and their interiors should be like 10 years from now, and you’ll get some interesting proposals:

- An upscale electric vehicle sporting luxury fabrics and features
- A ready-to-rally SUV with everyday functionality
- A super-sized sedan with Barcelona seats and the roominess of a first-class airline cabin.

These are some of the ideas which are taking shape at The Cleveland Institute of Art, in Ohio. CIA is one of a handful of design schools where Ford Motor Company is helping to cultivate the creative talent that will shape tomorrow’s cars and trucks.

“The future walks the halls of our schools today, so ensuring we’re ahead of the trends and competition means closer contact with the leading schools and students,” says J Mays, Ford's vice president, Design.

Since January, some of Mays’ top designers have trekked from Dearborn to Cleveland each Saturday to guide and advise 16 third-year students in Jim Orr’s introductory class in transportation design. 

Their finished projects can be seen at CIA’s annual Spring Show, from May 6 to 9 at the Thwing Center on the Case Western Reserve University campus. The Cleveland Institute of Art is the only five-year fine arts program in the US, including a two-year classical foundation. Diverse majors in interior, industrial and product design are offered, in addition to classes in automotive design.

Ford’s project sponsorship renews ties to CIA, whose alumni pioneered major Ford designs including the Thunderbird, Mustang and post-war classic 1949 Ford. Jim Orr, a former GM design executive, and several current CIA alumni at Ford developed the four-month project, in which students teams were required to create a fully-detailed vehicle interior, based on the brand attributes of Ford, Jaguar, Volvo or another of the company’s lines. This parallels the school’s broad-based design approach and the growing importance of automotive interiors.

“This reflects Ford’s own growing emphasis on vehicle interiors as another area where we can really distinguish ourselves in the eyes of our customers,” explains Giuseppe Delena, chief designer, Outfitters, Ford Truck, and a CIA alumnus who sits on its board of directors.

“We treat every component – the steering wheel, instrument cluster, gear shift and door handle – as if it’s a product on its own. From an interior design standpoint, that means closer attention to the aesthetics, ergonomics, materials and textures of each item individually and in relation to the interior as a whole.”

The Ford team was led by Sid Ramnarace and Jeff Puppos, who returned to their former school each Saturday early January, often accompanied by senior designers responsible for the new GT40, Mercury Marauder, Ford Thunderbird and Mustang. “We’ve had incredible input from Ford, with a variety of ‘guest’ designers from every level and skill,” says Orr, who now runs his own design business and teaches at the CIA.

The four student teams have each completed a 40 percent scale interior buck with instrument panel, seats, trim panel and other interior features designed to appeal to their chosen brand’s target customers in the year 2012. 

“We gave them the brand attributes and told them to take it wherever they think it’s going to be 10 years from now” said Ramnarace. “Interiors pose a series of very difficult challenges, but allow designers to answer with a more profound statement. The students are learning from us how things work at Ford. But we’re learning from them, too, about thinking differently.”

One student team designed the interior for “a two-seater Lincoln roadster,” he said. Another took a non-traditional approach to electric vehicles. The students’ futuristic version of Ford’s TH!NK neighbor offers high-end materials and features for customers who want the best and can afford it, said Ramnarace. In place of a steering wheel and pedals, it’s controlled by a single 'yoke' like that on the Segway personal mobility vehicle. 

More exotic features yet are found on the future Land Rover created by students, a comfortably rugged four-seat SUV equipped equally well for daily town and country usage as for full-blown off-road rally competition. Along with high-end wood accents and diamond-plate flooring, its light-weight materials include a fabric that’s flexible, breathable and waterproof. Exposed metal tubing and structural components support its very 'racerly' appearance.

The opposite extreme is an over-sized Mazda sedan, which provides roomy personal space for all four occupants, instead of the traditional approach that subordinates all others to the driver’s comfort. “It’s a unique interior approach, designed to place each occupant’s ‘furniture’ in its own ample environment,” said Ramnarace. The seats are similar to the classic Barcelona chair design of Mies van der Rohe.

High-end entertainment and communications systems play no significant role in the students’ vision of future vehicles. “None of them felt that technology would be a primary motivator for future customers,” Ramnarace explained. “Technology will be a given, so design appearance and quality of materials will be the differentiators.”

Cleveland alumni who have made a difference in Ford product design include the company’s first styling vice president, George Walker, who designed the 1949 Ford and oversaw development of the 1955 Thunderbird. A decade later, Walker colleague Joseph Oros helped design the first Ford Mustang. 

“Joe Oros worked on the 1964 Mustang and here I am working on the 2004 Mustang,” said Ramnarace, a New York City native, who joined Ford after graduating from the CIA in 1995. “These linkages are fantastic and it’s important that we maintain them.”

Jim Orr

Jim Orr, Transportation Design instructor at The Cleveland Institute of Art.

Mazda Interior02

Third year students working on the Ford interior project

Student Model02

The Cleveland Institute of Art annual Industrial Design Student Spring Show will be held May 6-9 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily in Case Western Reserve University’s Thwing Center ballroom.

Visitors will view two-dimensional renderings and three-dimensional models of automotive concepts, full-scale furniture and conceptual models of appliances, housewares, toys and innovative interior designs.

The show draws representatives from professional design consulting firms; product design firms and leading manufacturers, including the major automotive companies who recruit students for internships and full-time positions.

The Cleveland Institute of Art is a private, five-year college of art and design. It extends its programs to the public through gallery exhibits, continuing education and children’s classes and the Cleveland Cinematheque film program.

Cleveland Institute of Art website: www.cia.edu