Trends change quickly. If you’re doing a project that you won’t see on the road for another five years, you can’t really look at a trend.

- Andrew MacLachlan

Leading Learners

Creative Pioneers Inspire a Car Dream Factory

Calty Design Research is the North American design studio for Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s largest car manufacturer. Calty provides innovative designs for Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles and supports North American production design. Over the last 50 years, Toyota has built more than 30 million cars and trucks in North America. Calty’s Newport Beach, California studio focuses on future innovation and creativity – on concepts that are 5-10 years from release.

Andrew MacLachlan works with Calty’s designers in California to plan new car concepts before the pen ever hits the paper. Designing a car for the future insulates it from the influence of trends. Car concepts need to take inspiration from deeper personal and cultural values and habits. A key principal in Toyota’s culture is genchi genbutsu, which is a Japanese term meaning “go and see.” So MacLachlan and Calty go in the field to learn about how people use cars today and they bring in experts and creative pioneers to learn about their processes. They’ve found that hearing from creators and designers in completely different fields encourages them to push their own creative boundaries.

My name in Andrew MacLachlan. I work in the Planning Strategy Group here at Calty Design. Calty is the North American studio for Toyota and Lexus. We are, right now, the largest car manufacturer in the world.

My role here is concept planner. When we put a new car – a new idea of what a car could be, before we start putting pen to paper there has to be a concept, a story behind the car. Who’s going to buy it? What’s it for? Is it more a sports car? A utility car? And that kind of thing. So I work in the beginning with some of the key designers to put that story together.

We’re a dream factory. We’re basically thinking of what could be next. What could cars or mobility be in five, ten years from now?

We have here the FT-1 concept, this is an early model in that process, and this is a sports car that we showed in Detroit in 2013.

Our initial idea with this was, “What’s the appropriate sports car for Toyota in the future?”

So the concept part is really answering all those questions. Creating the roadmap for the designers then to sketch to and to develop ideas.

Trends change quite quickly sometimes. If you’re doing a project that you won’t see on the road for another five years, you can’t really look at a trend like a fashion. It has to respond to a much deeper value that someone has.

When you are going out five, ten years in the future, there is some part that will always be guesswork. But it has to be an educated guess.

But something that’s key that comes from Toyota’s culture is a term called ‘Genchi Genbutsu.’

This basically means go and see. So, when we want to experience a certain type of, I guess, trend or a lifestyle, we tend to take our designers out into the field to do that. With GLG, for example, we’d like to talk to someone in the outdoor sports field, so we might go and take a bunch of people to meet them to go to different places. Maybe there’s an expo with a lot of different sports equipment, that kind of thing, and meet people, talk firsthand.

It’s very subjective what we do, and that’s why I think the right expert can take us a long way.

Something that’s worked very well with us is having people that are trailblazers in their field come in and talk to our designers. People that might be from a very creative field like fashion or food, a famous chef, that kind of thing. And then when they do talk about what it is they do and the risks they’ve taken, our hope is that it’ll encourage some of our guys, some of our designers, to go a bit further.

It is a process that’s very time consuming, there are various constraints along the way, there’s obviously confidentiality, financial issues as well. So the one thing that’s really helped us is that GLG can be that one-stop shop that they deal with all the administrative side or the confidentiality, and then we can just go straight to the kind of person that we’re after.

I’m so lucky to be in a field where discovery is the crucial thing that we’re always looking for. That, actually, is what excites me on a day-to-day basis.

We’re kind of pushing the boundaries all the time. So I love the initial problem, the solution that we come up with, and then seeing something physical at the end is fantastic.