Passion, Design, and Top Gear

I just finished watching Top Gear Uncovered, a production of one of my favorite television shows. Not only is the writing brilliant, but the show’s presenters balance the comedy of cars with the seriousness of exceptional driving machines.  I think the episode helped me realize a few things about passion and design.

First, I realized that–allow although I like the show’s antics, wit, and comedy (because I am human and enjoy a laugh now and then)–what keeps me coming back to the show are the show’s serious moments.  Let me explain.  It is precisely when the silly smirk on a Top Gear presenter’s silly face becomes properly stoic that I sit up in my seat and unconsciously assume a perfectly erect posture, because I can tell the presenter is about make a serious comment. When do the Top Gear presenters get serious?   When they start talking about cars that were built with passion and that, therefor, lead to car designs that provide for grand ownership and emotional driving experiences.  I, like the Top Gear presenters, feel some cars offer driving experiences that are far more rewarding than others, and understand how a superior driving experience can make one feel like a schoolboy sprinting to the playground at recess on a beautiful Spring day.  Cars with superior driving experiences, make their owners find excuses to drive.

In great design, like the foundational layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (i.e. food, water, shelter), a design must first perform before it does anything.  Performance, however, is boring; it is easily measured and ranked. More interesting is what a design can do beyond performance requirements.  How can a design make people feel.  There is nothing more human than the experience and emotion.  There is nothing more touching, influential, powerful, or grounding than emotional experiences. My career goals therefor are fundamentally grounded in a desire to design things that tap into these intangible sensations to provide experiences, not just utility.

I want people to smile and feel happy when they are looking at and using my designs.  I want my designs to remind us of who we are.  We are partly a savage beast that roams in a pack family, and partly an intellectual individual with a unique style.

Like the supercar designers Ferrari, Zhonda, Lambhorgini, etc., I hope to design products and services with which users form healthy bonds. Click the below link and start watching the video at minute 47:15.  Watch through to the end, and you will see what I mean.   For me, this movie clip showed me how important sound is to the supercar experience.  As I watched the video, the presenter states the car has a 0 to 60 time of 3.9 seconds.   That is great, but nothing made me want to own the car more than the sound the car made as the sound…my god, the sound…its 550 break horse power-engine made as it gobbled up gasoline and air, and was asked to accelerate the driver forward with exhilarating torque and speed.    In the moment, hearing that sound and thinking about what it must feel like such power and force tempts me to set, as my ultimate priority, not helping the world, but obtaining the money needed to purchase, maintain, and protect the car so that I can experience what it feels like to drive such a vehicle.  Keep in mind that many supercars can accelerate a driver from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, but the meaningful question is “How does it feel to be the driver of the supercar as it accelerates in a straight line from 0 to 60 mph or from 60 to 0 mph, as it makes a 90-degree turn at 40 mph, or when you sit in it stopped curbside, with a passenger or without, etc.?”

In the video (see link below), while driving and describing the Laborghini LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni Gallardo, Richard Hammond says “…and the carpets…well, there aren’t any.  All for the sake of [weight]…”    This illustrates plainly that a noteworthy difference in a supercar’s design, can be its use of carpeting or the lack thereof.   Why is this a noteworthy difference because we notice these things and interpret meanings of these design decisions; and they appeal to our personal styles, sometimes at a conscious level and sometimes at an unconscious level.   In this case, the Balboni Gallardo’s lack of floor carpeting (along with many of its other design elements) reflect, for whom (other than Valentino Balboni, the career Ferrari test driver, who Ferrari–in honor of his life long career with, and retirement, from the company, gave him one of the 250 cars that will be made) this car was intended.  Not only was it meant for drivers, but drivers who prefer to give up carpeted flooring if it means better performance.  In a car that that weighs 3,000 pounds, carpeting weighing around 20 pounds may seem obsessive; but in the world of supercars, dropping pounds means faster times, which are measured in tenths of seconds.   How might this design decision be further interpreted?  Well, we might say that the owner-driver of the LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni wears driving shoes, not dress shoes, when driving this car, so he doesn’t care that fine leather dress shoes would be scuffed by the car’s coarse non-carpeted flooring.

Never be in the presence of his or her supercar without at least a small smile on your face

Another thing…I don’t think anyone should ever be seen in the presence of his or her supercar without anything less than a small authentic smile on their face–unless of course they are the passenger, who is understandably upset at the fact that he is not the driver.   Why do I think this? Well, imagine a guy getting out of the car with a serious look on his face.  First of all, supercars are beyond impractical. Supercars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to own, do not get good gas mileage, do not have space for luggage or for more than one human passenger; and they were built for driving at extreme speeds, which can be dangerous.  These cars are big expensive toys.  One should only buy a toy if he enjoys using it; and buying one for any other reason, just doesn’t make good sense.   Imagine a driver opening upward the car door without at least a smirk on his face, or–worse–a serious I’m-on-a-mission body posture and look on his face.  Now imagine a guy who gets looks like he is having fun, happy, and relaxed.  I would argue that if you don’t look this happy fun-having guy, you look like you bought the car not to enjoy it, but to impress people.   And well, that my friend, is just sad, and makes you look like an insecure tool.

Why do I want my supercar?   Because, from my limited supercar knowledge, the driving experience just puts a smile on your face.  The amazing auditory experience of the engine revving and gear shifting, and  controlling enough horsepower that can cause G-forces that can force my body left–into the driver-side door armrest–and back–into the lumbar support of the drivers seat–would be exhilarating and fun, as long as you are safe.   Driving the right supercar for you, brings you back down to earth, and reminds you that we are just mortal beings who enjoy simple pleasures.  The raw and beastly driving experience, reminds us that we are intellectual animals, who compete with people who have a difference of opinion.  At the end of the day, these opinions are what matter.  What we perceive to be reality is what affects human behavior.

Why do I want a Ferrari F430 Scuderia (pictured below)?  Well, I think Richard Hammond summed up my reasoning quite nicely when he said “It’s that pure distilled car passion in high-tech and history. Nobody, to this day, bottles it quite like Ferrari.”

Video: http://www.destift.com/media/2010/01/31/richard-hammonds-top-gear-uncovered/

I love what little I have scene of Italy, but I don’t expect to I’ll ever live in Maranello, Italy. I therefore, can’t wait for my dream car to ship from the small Italian town, where Ferrari’s are built, to wherever I call home.  All I know is that home will be a place I can hop into my Ferrari for a smile and soberingly human experience that–like a slap in the face from mother–is a loving way of reminding you when you are not being strong, and that strong people live inspired lives, because they they feel how life is short and they don’t want to waste a single precious moment.

Then the brain’s rationalization creeps back into my thought process and I am reminded of the fact that these physical and emotional experiences–however fundamentally human–do not last; they are temporary. Intoxicatingly awakening while they last, these simple experiences provide sufficient nourishment for the human heart, but not enough to sustain the human mind or, ultimately, the human soul, which I propose requires both a balanced diet of both emotional indulgences and mental preoccupations.

For me, denying a desire to own and drive my dream car, the Ferrari 430 Scuderia (red hardtop), would be to akin to being a robot.   You watched the video clip (link above) and still don’t understand why I feel this way?   AlI I can say is watch it again; and listen to the sound the Ferrari makes as it fire-breathing engine revs and when engine RPMs are dialed up or down to shift between gears in milliseconds.

Ferrari F430

Why do I want a Ferrari F430?   Driving this supercar is about more than getting from point A to point B; it is an emotional experience.   The sound of the engine revving reverberates inside you, so that you can’t help but think about the number of hours the people spent passionately designing and engineering such a high performing and beautiful car.   I think every time I drove the vehicle it would be about driving; it would be an experience that reminded me of life’s mortal rawness and the essence of what it means to be human: to have feelings and opinions, and to take action according to these views in competing with other humans.   At the end of the day, life is about feeling these things; not about objectivity.  Perception (i.e. people’s perception) is reality.

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