Design Duo: Behind the team that brought us the iconic look of Tesla [Video]

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Matt Pressman

Earlier this year, the ArtCenter College of Design* went behind-the-scenes with the design duo responsible for creating the signature look at Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA]. Visiting Tesla's Design Studio in Hawthorne, CA, it's reported that: "The highly secretive design studio operates out of a former aircraft hangar that once housed a practice court for the Los Angeles Lakers. Just a few blocks away from the childhood home of the Beach Boys, the studio sits adjacent to the Hawthorne Municipal Airport, in a no-frills neighborhood replete with taquerias and auto body shops."

Above: Tesla’s director of product design Javier Verdura, left, and the company’s chief designer Franz von Holzhausen (Source: ArtCenter*)

If you look, "outside [Tesla's Design Studio], Tesla Superchargers are hard at work filling up a row of Model S vehicles; inside, a growing creative workforce, many of them ArtCenter alumni, are even harder at work designing the future of sustainable mobility." Who are two of those ArtCenter graduates? Tesla’s legendary chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, and, his director of product design Javier Verdura. So, how'd these two originally meet? Verdura explains that one of their professors at ArtCenter was, "very precise, and in order to remember his students’ names he made us sit in alphabetical order. He told us to stay in those seats for the rest of the term. So I ended up sitting next to von Holzhausen.”

Above: Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer (Source: ArtCenter*)

It's important to note that, "When it comes to transportation design, you can’t get much bigger than von Holzhausen. After graduating from ArtCenter, his career took him from being chief designer at Volkswagen in 1992 (he saw the New Beetle through to production), to design director at General Motors in 2000 (Autoweek called his Pontiac Solstice roadster a “much needed shot in the arm” for the Detroit automaker), to director of design at Mazda in 2005 (Top Gear recently listed his Kabura sports coupe [see below] as one of 'Mazda’s coolest ever concept cars')."

Above: A younger von Holzhausen shows off his design of Mazda's Kabura sports coupe concept car (Image: Motor Trend)

But soon von Holzhausen was being recruited by a new electric car company. "In 2008, von Holzhausen was wooed to Tesla personally by Musk, the company’s charismatic and visionary leader, who immediately tasked him with designing the all-electric Model S, a car which, since its release, has won countless awards... and its timeless, just-the-essentials aesthetic is redefining what consumers expect from a luxury vehicle. But most importantly, it has set the tone for what all future Tesla vehicles will deliver in terms of both design and functionality—including the forthcoming Model 3."

Above: Javier Verdura, Tesla’s director of product design (Source: ArtCenter*)

The other half of the duo, "Verdura followed a much different career trajectory." His work focused on industrial design for consumer products for companies like Panasonic. After years excelling in a non-automotive career path, Tesla came calling as, "von Holzhausen called his friend in 2012 and asked him if he’d like to become Tesla’s director of product design, [and] Verdura embraced the opportunity. 'Franz is one of the greatest car designers of our generation.' says Verdura, who breaks down their duties as follows: 'On a day-to-day basis, he focuses on what he excels at—designing cars—and he lets me play with all the other stuff.'” Verdura goes on to explain some of Tesla's overarching principles of design (see below)...

 

Above: Javier Verdura discusses design at Tesla (Source: ArtCenter* via Gestalton)

The two even get a chance to parlay their design skills at Musk's other company: "SpaceX, whose goal is no less ambitious than to put a human on the surface of Mars by 2025... [SpaceX] is Tesla’s next-door neighbor in Hawthorne. In the past, the company has turned to von Holzhausen’s group to design objects ranging from spacesuits to the interiors of manned space capsules. 'It’s simply amazing to be in the same room as Elon and to hear the things that come out of his mouth,' says Verdura, describing the unbelievable nature of his job. 'I hear what he’s saying and I think, That’s impossible. We can’t do that. And then we do it!'"

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*Source: ArtCenter College of Design

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