Interview: Michele Albera, Car Designer
Designer Michele Albera has done his master’s in Transportation Design from IED, Turin. He is currently working as a Head of Operation, Europe at Studio 34. Apart from this, he is also the founder of MAP, a company working towards launching electric superbike and transportation design area coordinator at IED, Turin. He will be sharing his journey and his thoughts as an Automotive Designer today.
Where are you from and how’s the car design scene there?
I am from Torino, the Italian town of automotive design where masterpieces have been designed by style centers and coachbuilders. In Turin, we had through the years more than 100 builders and a lot of design studios as well. Cars like the F40 or the Miura have been designed here. It is still the mecca of design in Italy and a lot of foreign brands opened their style centers here as well. My family has been working in the automotive industry since 1919, so it is somehow in my veins.
When did you first think about becoming a car designer?
I always loved the automobile and the designers behind the masterpieces like Aldo Brovarone, Marcello Gandini, Giorgetto Giugiaro, Ercole Spada, Tom Tjaarda, etc. They all worked in my town and I felt I could never be as good as them, so I started working in architecture then I switched to studios working for companies like Italdesign, Pininfarina, Alfa Romeo, and Chang’an. At that point I understood this was a job I could do well, but I still had a religious devotion and admiration for my famous colleagues.
What motivates you and from where do you get/seek your inspiration?
I would surprise you but I am not very creative as an innate gift. I study a lot, both history and new technologies, solutions and design languages as well, or production techniques and limitations due to ergonomics, packaging, and above all costs. Then my brain starts visualizing the best answer possible. I need to challenge myself and not design freely. I also have a team to lead now and I try to apply the same criteria and teach them, especially if they are young, the big difference between a nice sketch and a nice product. Sometimes we forget that what we design has to exist in time and space unless it becomes just a styling or artistic idea with no possibility of becoming a winning object.
From where did you complete your education?
I studied architecture and later at IED Torino and now I am the scientific director of the transportation design area of IED (transportation design Bachelor, Master, and Yacht-Master). I have to say that my training didn’t stop there. I learned a lot by working for my first studio and having the chance to do it also for Walter de Silva when he was head of the Volkswagen group. I am still learning every day. The automotive industry changes and I have to keep up to date. Right now we are working with new technologies, software, and design approaches that are totally new even from 5 years ago. For example, during the lockdown, I followed the exterior design and the prototyping of a car for an Indian start-up called Pravaig without moving from my house.
Does the reputation of the college matter for an individual’s career?
What matters to me are two things: the portfolio and the human attitude. At IED we have an excellent level of technical and cultural preparation and in our school, we prepared people like the actual chief designers of Alpine, Hyundai, Pininfarina, Lamborghini, etc. The personal attitude is up to the person. Being a nice person and ready to cooperate with others is also making a difference, but this is up to the designer.
Can you tell a bit about how you made a shift from your academic world to the professional world?
I think these are the two sides of me but they complete each other. Working for MAP design studio / Studio34 keeps me designing in contact with the industry and updated on what the car industry wants for the upcoming future. I transmit this knowledge and experience to the school, where I get in contact with fresh ideas from younger generations and I think that this is a winning combination.
How was your career path from the beginning up to today so far?
I took a long way. After my experience in architecture, I started working for big brands through some established studios in Torino. At the same time, I started teaching and a little bit of individual consulting for the National Museum of the Automobile and for manufacturers like Ares Design. Then when I opened my firm as MAP design Studio I switched to startups and smaller companies but I had the chance to follow the entire design process, from the concept and the product development to the design and later the prototyping. The melting with Studio34 and getting in contact with new people led me to work for major brands even with a small studio, but keeping a very high quality of work, providing styling activity and CAS modeling. Recently I also became coordinator of IED master, managing the design and the prototyping for a Suzuki concept car called Misano that had huge success… The next that will be released soon is an Alpine and I am very excited about what is coming out.
Which one project do you think was the most challenging project during college-
I loved designing since day one and I admit I had a certain talent in organizing my work and my teammates too. So I always finished the design process from 4 to 5 days before the delivery. When you have fun and you don’t run into time challenges it is always a good experience. I think my greatest talent was the lead of the project and the time managing more than the design phase itself. Somehow it is still what I do now.
-and one challenging project you worked on during your job?
I think it was Emula, the first real super sports full electric motorcycle. It was presented at EICMA Milan, the most important European expo of two-wheelers and it took only 6 months from the sketches to the fully working prototype ad it had to have high performance and to host a technology that simulated the clutch, the sound, and vibration of a wide range of traditional endothermic bikes as well as their performance (including a two-stroke one!). I did the full motorcycle with my brother Lorenzo and a CAS modeler. A super small team and a very small time plus a great possibility of failure but the result was very appreciated by the press worldwide.
How do you manage to work full time and still work on side projects?
I live my projects with a lot of passion so for me designing feels like a hobby. Plus I have a great team of people working for me on cars and motorcycles. I simply love it. When I will feel it is becoming heavy or not exciting anymore I will change again, maybe going to consultancy or body rentals for big companies.
What are your views on future of mobility?
It is very complicated to give a good answer. Even the OEMs are trying to understand what will happen. I think that even if we will go to smart mobility and autonomous or semi-autonomous driving we won’t have to forget the beauty and the appeal of the object we are designing. Functionality is important but cars have to make the people fall in love at first sight and we also have to integrate the mobility systems more like passenger cars, buses, metro, last-mile vehicles, etc. I think that anyway there will still be a lot of space for some irrational but amazing objects like hypercars, which may be pushed by new propulsion systems like hydrogen.
What impact does COVID had on the automotive industry?
Covid in the beginning was terrible. Then it made us understand that we could apply a little more freedom to the working time and the procedure. Now there is a lot to do cause a lot of clients who stopped for a year are and a half are now in need of design. We can work pretty well even remotely thanks to tools like VR goggles and conference calls. We understood not to waste time. I worked on 4 projects for a very big client in less than two months. Before it would have taken at least twice the time.
What advice do you have for upcoming transportation design students?
Be curious, try to get in contact with the professionals that might give you advice or help you and be humble especially at the beginning and go to a school that can give you the skills and the tools you need to give shape to your ideas.
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