One of the most fun part of working in the auto industry is all the really great people you get to meet. And if you are lucky you get to meet a few great people with whom you share your passions. If you have been a reader for any length of time you know one of my passions is racing, and that brings us to today’s subject Bruce Youngs (read on to see why). Youngs is another one of those designers who has achieved longevity in this industry. After graduating from The Cleveland Institute of Art in 1978, he started his career at Ford and stayed for almost 30 years. We caught up with Youngs at his current gig as Head of Automotive Services for Kaleidescope, a product development partner for companies as diverse as Ford, Motorola and Proctor & Gamble.
TSB: When did you know you wanted to be an auto designer? BY: About half way through college. I grew up around design & cars. My father was an industrial designer who always wanted to be a car designer. He was a founding member of a hot rod club in Cleveland called “The Choppers”. It was common when I was growing up to have a street rod or rail sitting in our garage getting lettered or pin striped by my father. Growing up I attended a lot of car races with my family, Dragway 42, Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. I was exposed to a wide variety of cars and racing. My parents thought it was totally appropriate to pull me out of grade school early on a Friday so we could drive up to Watkins Glen for the Grand Prix weekend (Editor’s note – crazy jealous right about now). I had planned to be a product designer like my father and mess around with cars as a hobby but when we started working on transportation projects in school I changed my plans pretty quickly.
TSB: Where did you go to school and how did you decide which school to attend? BY: I went to the hometown school, the Cleveland Institute of Art. When I was in middle school I took a tour of the Art Institute one evening so I could look around and see what it was all about. When we walked through the Industrial Design department I was hooked. My parents were concerned that I felt obligated to be a designer. They were actually encouraging me to pursue golf as a career but it just didn’t seem very practical to me. I have very fond memories of my time at the Institute. Viktor Schreckengost and Roy Hess had a major influence on my approach to design.
TSB: What was your first job after college? How did you get it? BY: I ended up going straight to Ford Motor Company after graduation. Ford sponsored a project our senior year. Dave Turner and Toshi Saito came down and blew us away with their live demonstrations of gouache rendering techniques. Based on the design I submitted for the sponsored project I got an interview at Ford. I interviewed with Fritz Mayhew, and Al Mueller. It was pretty intimidating to walk into the Design Center and be ushered into their executive offices along the front of the building. To my great surprise they offered me a job. I ended up working for all of them at one time or another.
TSB: Are there any major lessons you learned in that first job? BY: Work hard. Be a sponge. Be flexible. Be nice to everyone, you never know when you will end up working for someone who is currently working for you. Help other people achieve their goals.
TSB: What are your favorite cars and why? BY: Cars with great proportions and stance. There is no substitute for starting off with a solid foundation. A good designer can compensate for a bad package up to a point, but you have to make lots of compromises along the way. I prefer simple, clean, understated design. Slow cars you can drive fast rather than fast cars you constantly have to rein in. I have a soft spot for Alfa Romeo.
TSB: Where do you get your inspiration? BY: I’m a problem solver. I get a lot more satisfaction from developing and refining a design through the feasibility process than creating the initial concept.
TSB: Are there any designers you admire? BY: I have a lot of respect for any designer who can create a product that people connect with on an emotional level, and get it into production. I think these designers have some pretty impressive portfolios; Nuccio Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro, Marcello Gandini and Gordon Murray.
TSB: What is the most recent vehicle you worked on? Can you tell us a little about the process and end result. BY: I retired from Ford Motor Company in 2007 and joined Kaleidoscope that same year. Most of our transportation work at Kaleidoscope has been in the heavy truck sector and due to long lead times is still confidential. At Ford I worked on just about everything at one time or another; F-150, Ranger, Escape, Mariner, Mustang, Thunderbird, Cougar, Crown Vic, Grand Marquis, Lincoln, Expedition, Navigator, etc.
TSB: Can you tell us what are the biggest challenges facing designers in the future? BY: Evolving the automobile to keep it useful and relevant as population and traffic density rise and natural resources decline.
TSB: Are there any last parting words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring designers? BY: If your goal is to have a career that provides the most fun possible with cars, become an automotive journalist. If you love design and cars then go for it.
Truer words have never been spoken – perhaps I should become a journalist. Come back Monday for the Auto Design Week in review and news from the Chicago Auto Show. Wednesday we will have a report from a recent design competition and Friday we will start a multi-part series on the development of automotive exterior lighting.