David Bowie and Car Design: An Interview with Jaguar Designer Ian Callum

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David Bowie and Car Design: An Interview with Jaguar Designer Ian Callum

Nowadays, when you think of Jaguar, you think of the gorgeous, cohesive and elegantly designed F-Type, XF and XJ. For that, you have Mr. Ian Callum to thank.

Callum, Jaguar’s director of design, was responsible for the new and well-received design direction of the brand, and has a long, well established history of creating some of the most gorgeous cars out there. The Aston Martin DB7, Vanquish and DB9 are all his designs, along with the awesome Nissan R390 Le Mans Road car.

We recently had a few moments to chat with him at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, asking him about what inspires him as a designer and much more. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What Is Your Greatest Inspiration as a Car Designer?

A: “Life!” Callum said. He mentioned that he looks at art all around him, and visits many art galleries for inspiration, both modern and classical. Where many designers look to nature for inspiration, Callum pointed out that he prefers to look at what someone makes with their bare hands and imagination.

When pressed if there was anything beyond the visual arts that inspired him, he opened up and mentioned musical superstar David Bowie. “He truly is inspirational, as he created art that transcends and touches many generations,” Callum said. Similarly, Callum hopes his car designs can continue to be gorgeous for a long time.


Q: How do you plan on maintaining the Jaguar Heritage in Future Vehicles?

A: “When we start with Jaguar, there are three main factors to consider about the brand that must continue to the future vehicle design,” Callum said. “They’re beautiful vehicles. They have to have some exaggeration. And they have to maintain a sense of driving enjoyment.”

Callum assured that whatever vehicles Jaguar is working on next, will carry these three principals through their design.

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Q: There are some design trends you see on the road that are clearly inspired by Jaguar/Aston Martin designs. Do you feel ripped off?

A: “Not at all, I’m flattered!” said Callum. “I’m proud that it’s like we’re the trend setters.”


Q: How do you keep the Jaguar design unique with all these “inspired designs”?

A: “We have that ‘face’ on our cars, and other automakers are doing that, sure, but we’ll evolve to make sure it’s clearly a Jaguar,” he said. “That design up front needs to be consistently recognized, while the whole car needs to have an underlying current, a thread that ties it all together as ‘this is a Jaguar.’ ”

Callum said that the corporate image is going to evolve subtly, and it’s off limits for a complete overhaul. “It’d be like if Burberry did away with the checkered pattern. People wouldn’t get it.”


Q: How will self-driving cars change how cars are designed?

A: “We design cars around one thing,” he said. “People.” That won’t change going forward, but Callum explained that the design of the car can change depending on certain factors. “Will cars still matter to the ego?” he asks. “Will there still be a part of passion to cater to [with these vehicles]?”

Callum fears that self driving cars will “take away most of the character” in car design, though he is sure that “driving will still be around in 100 years.”

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Q: Are there any regrets on certain designs of the cars you’ve made?

A: “Not really, I try not to think like that,” started Callum. “The DB7 really kicked off my career, though when I look at it now, I think, the belt-line was a bit too low.”

He also calls out the first generation XF as being a highlight rather than a regret. “I liked that it was disruptive.”

In regards to the new XJ, Callum said there are comments and times he looks at the rear tail-lamps and think they’re a bit polarizing. But then agreed that creating conversation is a highlight of interesting design.


2016 Lexus RX

Q: What car design trends do you see that you hate?

A: “Those big, angry looking grilles,” he said. “Does anyone want to get into an angry car?”

Callum wouldn’t call out any automakers in particular, but the outline his fingers made when describing the big grille brought the Lexus spindle-grille to mind.

“I also don’t like the random design,” he said. “Some designs out there aren’t cohesive, there’s no connection from one end of the car to the other, and it’s just all over the place. It frustrates me. Cars are being designed for the sake of being different.”


ALSO SEE: Top 5 Most Beautiful Cars Ever, According to Jaguar Design Mastermind Ian Callum

Callum helped introduced the new Jaguar F-Pace SUV at the Canadian International Auto Show. The SUV is expected to start at around $40,000 range up to $70,000. A supercharged V6 engine making 380-hp or an optional diesel engine will be found under the hood. Thanks to Callum, the F-Pace fits right into the Jaguar lineup, with its sexy, elegant design.

Discuss this story on our Jaguar Forum

  • ChiCarGuy

    Funny that he said he was flattered by rip-offs. In the early 2000’s I asked him what he thought when people likened the Ford Taurus to the new (at the time) S-type. He wasn’t flattered–he was clearly frustrated. Perhaps because his own parent company’s corporate design folks were ripping off the designs of one of their premium brands for the Taurus.

  • ClayManBob

    I suppose that Jaguar has done what they need to do to survive. And there are some things done well. But until a true E-Type (XK-E in the USA, F-Type is just another High HP wannabe among so many others) shows up, no Jaguar for me. Nothing out there that catches my breath like the first time I saw and fell in love with the XK-E in 1965. Fiat is even coming back with the 124 Spider. I loved my 1975 and only sold it after had children. Impress me, Jaguar, and bring back that beautiful E-Type design!