I spent some time this weekend screwing the glove box back into my car. Odd. I know. The story of how a perfectly good glove box came to be outside of the car is interesting and left me contemplating the general degree of isolation and detachment we often have from the people who influence myriad aspects of our modern life. Of course that’s not universally the case. We can see the actors who star in our favorite movies. We know the authors who write our favorite books and the athletes that compete for our favorite teams. I guess with the advent of the Internet and a more seamless flow of information I can often figure out who wrote my latest iPhone App.
But with a few notable exceptions, we generally have little or no personal connection to—or awareness of—the people responsible for the products that shape, interact and influence our daily lives. I have absolutely no idea who designed the building I work in, the bicycle I ride, the computer I’m typing on. I put my eyeglasses on every morning and suspect John Varvatos (I had to look him up. He’s a famous designer ironically from Detroit – see below … shows what I know) lent little more than his name. Mostly I never give much thought to who designed my possessions and, heck, I’m in the profession. I suspect many of you give it even less. Our forefathers might find this strange—but they lived in a world where a larger portion of their lives was contained within the sphere of their daily influence. Such is no longer the case where today our detachment is so profound we often don’t know the person who grew our food or cooked our meal. So maybe it’s not so odd that we don’t have a clue who designed our products.
I guess one reason for this is that product design is much more a team sport than say, for example … team sports. Really. By the time any reasonably complex product or service winds its way to market it’s actually sort of rare that any one individual or small group of individuals can legitimately claim singularly meaningful credit. Likewise, if product design is the ultimate team sport, then who exactly lays claim to being the quarterback? Unless you’re remarkably self-centered or egotistical, this probably isn’t the right profession if you’re into adulation and fame.
I look at the brilliant product designers who work here at Design Concepts, and although it’s really cool to see a product you worked on in a store, in general they know they’re toiling away in some degree of anonymity. I know they realize they’re a small but important part of the complicated tapestry of sweat and effort it takes to move a product from the spark of an idea to a place in our lives and – if they’re really good – our hearts.
So back to my glove box. Some time ago I bought a new Cadillac CTS 6-speed manual.For me the car is an absolute joy – one of those rare evocative products that can connect with me at a visceral level. I can take a client out to dinner in it, but it has everything the 17-year-old boy in me relishes. It’s all black, aggressively styled, brutally quick and the stereo goes really, really loud. What in the world could be better?
And unlike the vast majority of products I alluded to above, I actually have a personal connection to the car. Before joining Design Concepts I worked for General Motors and a friend of mine – Lee Visci – a brilliant engineer and superb manger – went on to become the assistant chief engineer on the CTS. That was sort of beside the point – I’ve actually always liked the CTS and when I went looking for a new car the CTS was a great match. But since I knew she worked on it I always joked with Lee that someday I’d have her autograph it. When I ended up traveling to Detroit a couple of weeks ago on business, I lamented the fact that I was going to have to fly until it occurred to me that I could bring the mountain to Mohammad, so to speak. So I (carefully) tore a perfectly functional glove box out of my beloved car and carefully packed it into my suitcase where I was able to wrangle it past a somewhat bemused TSA agent at the airport. In Detroit, I delivered it to a probably likewise bemused Lee who, out of the kindness of her heart, arranged to have a few of the people responsible for the CTS autograph the inside of the glove box door. So I’ve now got a one-of-a-kind autographed CTS. How freakin’ cool is that????
The signatures inside include Lee; Dave Leone, Cadillac Global Vehicle Chief Engineer; Liz Pilibosian, the CTS Chief Engineer; and Eric Clough, Director of Interior Design, and responsible for the awesome CTS Interior. Rock stars, the lot of you!
So to Lee, Dave, Liz, Eric and all the rest of you out there who worked on my CTS – here’s a shout out. I’ve been thinking of you. Thanks. You didn’t toil in anonymity. Great job and it’s appreciated.