Every now and then you run into a designer who has achieved longevity in this business (which sadly isn’t all that common). My friends and I discuss this issue quite often – it can be daunting to consider the fact that there are relatively few 40-year old automotive designers when you are in your twenties and just starting your career. This week we talk to a designers’ designer who arrived, became influential, and developed staying power. Dennis Myles started his career at General Motors back in the … I am not sure he wants me to say exactly when. After that he moved to Chrysler where he spent some time overseas working with Lamborghini, Maserati and Mitsubishi. Recently, Myles came out of retirement from Chrysler to head up the Industrial Design Department at Lacks Enterprises, a supplier of interior, exterior and wheel trim components. After the Detroit show we had a chance to present our standard 10 questions and here are his answers.
TSB: When did you know you wanted to be an auto designer? DM: As far back in my childhood as I can remember I was always drawing “things.” About the time I was in middle school my Dad who was in the auto servicing and repair business from before I was born took me to the GM Auto Rama in New York. On a vast stage the new for that year–Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac–were brought out on cantilevered platforms in a staged sequence starting with the Chevrolet. All two door coupes, all in special pearlescent white paint and presented with dancing girls, special lighting and music one at a time until in the finale all were juxtaposed above the stage at various heights to a crescendo of music and dancing. Imagine the impression this would make on a 13 year old who was just emerging from puberty!
TSB: Where did you go to school and how did you decide which school to attend? DM: When I was in high school I met with a career counselor to map strategy in preparation for selecting the college or university I would like to apply to. The counselor said that if I wanted to design cars I should get a liberal arts and/or management degree first because, as he said, “you don’t want to be on the drawing board for the rest of your life.” So I attended a liberal arts college and pursued a degree in industrial management with the intention of transferring to an art school upon graduation. However I was drafted and spent two years in the military where I could experience the European car scene and “refine my tastes.” There were two principal schools recognized and recommended by the major producers as chief sources for their design talent. The schools were Pratt Institute in New York and Art Center in L.A. Pratt was known for developing industrial designers who could survive, thrive, and succeed in any design environment with a particular strength in 3 dimensional form development, while Art Center was strong in professional 2D presentation skills. I chose Pratt for my primary design education and I used my summer breaks to attend Art Center so I could combine the strengths of both premier design schools.
TSB: What was your first job after college? How did you get it? DM: While a sophomore at Pratt I applied for and received a GM scholarship. At that time if you received a scholarship the sponsoring company sent their design office representatives in at the end of the school year to review the recipient’s work. I therefore met with GM design reps at the end of my sophomore and junior years which set me up for the final senior year review which essentially was the job interview. Although I had offers from Ford and Chrysler as well as GM my early goal of working for the “class outfit” which at that time in my estimation was GM resulted in my final decision to work at the Tech Center.
TSB: Are there any major lessons you learned in that first job? DM: Yes………I had a lot to learn! My assumptions of the “glamour” of car design was quickly dispelled when I realized the following:
- The demands on one’s time and talent, as well as the collaborative effort it takes to create a viable concept;
- How long it could take to “prove myself” in a highly competitive environment where talent was assumed and where there were so many really talented people;
- As a new hire, my skill development was just beginning, so this was going to be journey not a destination;
- The daunting prospect of achieving consensus and approval in a large organization with many cross functional interactions;
- I had to be patient, persistent, and consistent–and wait for “my turn.”
TSB: What are your favorite cars and why? DM: It is impossible to name all of the cars past and present that have shaped and continue to influence my car sensibilities. [Editor's note: I love the fact that Myles' list of cars was too long to publish, but here are the highlights: 1954 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing and 2012 Mercedes SLK 250, 1950s BMW 501 & 503 and 2013 BMW 3-Series, 1966 FIAT 124 Spider, 2013 Ferrari 458 Spider, 1970 Nissan 240 Z, 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix, 1967 Pontiac Firebird, 2006 Pontiac Solstice, 2011 Chevrolet Camaro.]
TSB: Where do you get your inspiration? DM: My inspiration comes from many different influences in my greater world; Fashion, architecture, products, technology, nature, literature and my fellow designers.
TSB: Are there any designers you admire? DM: I admire the creative endeavors of all designers regardless of their focus and affiliation. Designers are a dissatisfied group who want and strive to make the world around us a better place. Better in terms of aesthetic value, better from a humanistic point of view, better because the beauty of the things around us and the things we use and interact with have a profound effect upon our mood, our outlook and our optimism about our future as a race.
TSB: What is the most recent vehicle you worked on? Can you tell us a little about the process and end result. DM: In my current role working in the supplier community I’m now on the “other side” of vehicle development. I now get the chance to help the OE design people achieve their design objectives and intent as opposed to being a part of setting those goals when I was working for Chrysler and GM.
TSB: Can you tell us what are the biggest challenges facing designers in the future? DM: Yes. Being relevant to your time. With uncertainty being the new reality working within this context will be your greatest challenge. Not knowing what the future holds, not knowing how the market will evolve, what government and regulatory policy will be, all present the designer with an uncertain present as well as an uncertain future. Accept it because it really hasn’t been much different throughout recent history in the auto business. Use the uncertainty as an opportunity because you have a unique skill that others do not–“you can reinvent and envision the future by virtue of your design creativity.” No one else can do this, and thus you are always on the threshold of a new beginning. Each time you start that next sketch you’re presented with this rare and unique chance to show us the “way things should be.” Consider yourself a visionary!
TSB: Are there any last parting words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring designers? DM: Perhaps this last thought. Pursue your dream and be true to yourself. Yes ,you will have to learn to compromise. You will have to work with others to achieve your goals. But be true to the essential reason you want to get into this business…… You want to make things better. I can’t think of a more noble cause!