I haven’t driven in about 8 years but when I was offered the opportunity to drive a McLaren on the historic race course, Goodwood, in Chichester I didn’t hesitate. I don’t know anything about cars but something inside me just jumped at the opportunity. Face your fears? I’m not sure it was a fear, as it only dawned on me while we were travelling to Goodwood that I was going to actually drive… I closed my eyes and visualised myself driving and then asked myself, if I don’t do it would I regret it? And yes – yes it was a big fat yes!
Live outside your comfort zone and inevitably the zone shifts.
Actually I couldn’t be in safer hands. I was part of a press trip – to meet the ladies at McLaren and that included Amanda McLaren, Brand Ambassador; Donna Falconer, Senior Manager of Global Product Strategy and Planning and Joanna Lewis, Colour & Materials Designer. They were all inspiring and I had the opportunity to chat with Jo in a bit more detail. (Interview below). Jo was wearing a bright blue coat with a white ensemble with heels (we were all in flats as per our instructions) so it wasn’t surprising that she’s the Senior Colour and Materials Designer at McLaren . What I did find a bit surprising and interesting was that she’s a Central Saint Martins and Royal Collage of Art MA graduate.
I drove a McLaren 570S. It’s has the highest power output and lightest car in the sports car segment which simply means it drives beautiful and easily. The starting prices is £143,250 and it’s hand assembled in the state of the art McLaren facility in Surrey. Even the leather comes from Scotland. Each car takes 188 hours to build by a team of 370 technicians.
Driving! After a talk and introduction to McLaren, a trainer drives you around the circuit and then you get to do some laps on your own, but with the trainer in the passenger seat. I had the only female trainer Jade Edwards and during the circuit she’s guiding you all the way, keeping you in check. It was fun and it’s definitely a rush! Afterwards you’re very thirsty, and there’s a masseuse in case your shoulders or neck are a bit stiff. I can’t imagine how a professional race car driver really does this. For our final circuit we were taken out on a ‘hotlap’ and I’m sure I was dizzy from the g-force even the next day. I learned it’s not just driving a car, it is an experience and it’s much more physical then I expected. Imagine really knowing there is no one in the world who can drive that car faster then you.
I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Joanna Lewis, the Senior Colour & Materials Designer at McLaren. I wasn’t really quite sure what she did – design car interiors? Jo explains what she really does.
JL: I design breath-taking products that tell the visual story of their function. I create and deliver engaging and innovative design proposals for exterior and interior colour and material concepts. I research the market sector, lifestyles, design and social trends for current and future programmes and work closely with suppliers, developing materials to McLaren production specifications. I liaise with McLaren designers, function groups, marketing and purchasing teams to ensure proposals are to required standard & I represent the Studio/Colour and Materials team and create C&M programme vision themes and material developments for all cars.
What does a typical day look like?
JL: Lots of project meetings, supplier meetings, creating visual artwork for presentations, colour approval, researching new technologies and trends, constant interaction with the design team and other departments. Every day is different to the next; and you never know what to expect. I thrive on this and I’m at my best & in my element when the pressure is on!
You studied Constructed Textile Design at RCA. Did you ever expect to work in car design?
JL: I had no expectation of working in the automotive industry; growing up in Coventry I remember visiting the old Jaguar factory in Brown’s Lane in Coventry and was genuinely interested in the industry but I never thought that I would work for them one day!
During my MA I collaborated in product, vehicle, ceramic & architecture design. Developing textile design processes including the use of rapid prototyping technology to create innovative textile structures. This led me to where I am today, I’m very much opened minded and like to challenge myself so when the opportunity showed itself I took it. With no pre-conception of what the automotive world was about I think it has allowed me to have a different & refreshing view.
You interned at Stella McCartney, was interning helpful to you?
JL: Any work experience is helpful, whether it’s positive or negative experiences; all experiences are important. I always snapped up internships and opportunities whenever I could. Understanding how to work with people, and communicate is so important in any job you do.
When did you learn to drive?
JL: I passed my test when I was 17 second time round, I couldn’t wait to drive and have my independence!
What did you want be when you grew up?
JL: I wanted to be a pop star, architect, chef or zoo keeper!
You’ve been in the ‘auto’ industry for a few years, are there many women in industry?
JL: I am senior colour & materials designer and I have worked in the automotive industry in the same role for the last 6 years. Working at Jaguar, Land Rover, Lotus & now McLaren. In general this industry is a male dominated industry and within the design environment this also is the case. However generally C&M design roles tend to be a more female dominated area, it is a fact that women have better colour vision than men….so maybe that’s why, I’m not sure. It has never really occurred to me that I’m working with a team that is mostly made of men, it’s not something I have ever really thought about it.
What would your favorite interior be and which car?
JL: If it’s a McLaren it has to be the 570GT with almond white & jet black interior…body colour would be a tough call, there are so many amazing colours, but I love white, so I’d say SILICA white.