Interview: Stephane Janin, Car designer

Designer

Stephane Janin is an Automotive Designer from France. He has experience working for Renault, Nissan-Infiniti of 24 years. 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’m a French car designer doing exterior and interior design. I’m a Design Director since 2006. I have worked for Renault Group and Nissan-Infiniti for 24 years and I just left the Alliance (Renault-Nissan) to join GAC motors company last November.

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When did you first think about becoming a car designer in your life?

when I was 15 years old, I had the opportunity to attend a specific ‘applied art’ course at high school. I could experiment with fine art technics (gouache, watercolor, etc..), Architecture, Photography, Art History, sculpture, and design…It is when I discovered what was a designer: First product designer and then car designer. I found that cars were more exciting to design than anything else.

From where did you complete your education and how proper design education can get you close to your dream of becoming a designer.

After being graduated (BA product design in Paris), I decided to become a car designer, and – at the time, in 1994 – it didn’t exist many schools providing that education. Art Center Europe was a dream but it was too expensive. I decided then to do a BA transportation design at Coventry. After a few months there, I tried to find a ‘shortcut’ so I took my chance and applied for the MA vehicle design course at the Royal College of Art and it worked. Thanks to European regulations and agreements, it didn’t cost much for a French citizen to study there…wouldn’t be possible anymore today because of the Brexit. Nevertheless, life in London was costly and I decided to look for a sponsor. I met people from Rover and Renault and after a short internship at Renault, they agreed to help me financially. I was somehow already a Renault employee before being graduated! It was quite common at the time for students to be helped. I remember that Rover, Ford, VW, Hyundai, Peugeot did it.

Does the reputation of the college matter for an individual’s career?

I would rather say no. The most important thing remains your portfolio and your achievement. 

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Can you tell a bit about how you made a shift from your academic world to the professional world?

I started to work in 1997. At the time, students didn’t do many internships (2 months only in my case) so companies knew that it would take some time for you to be fully operational. The transition was then very smooth and you finished your education in your company. it was planned.

How was your career path from the beginning up to today so far?

So far so good! I have very few regrets about my career path. I had always interesting and challenging projects to do so I never had the feeling to waste my time. Among that, being in a big group (Renault/Nissan), gave me the opportunity to live in different places such as Barcelona, Seoul, and Tokyo in addition to Paris. Now I will move to Italy to create the GAC advanced design studio in Europe…the most exciting project so far!

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Which one project do you think was the most challenging project during college and one challenging project you worked on during your job?

The most challenging project during my education was my Degree project. It is something you do only once in your life and you don’t want to fail! The most challenging project as a pro is actually the one I’m doing now. Creating a design studio from scratch is definitively something you don’t do every day!

What’s the main difference between working with Chinese OEMs and the OEM’s in the rest of the world? 

I’m working for GAC only since the first of November 2021 so I have a little experience at that stage. What I can say however is that people in China are really efficient:  they take decisions quickly and deliver on time! They also have a very positive mindset, they are much more optimistic than Europeans about the future!

When recruiting, do you think the company looks beyond the portfolio as well? Like the extra skills of a person, that could be management, digital marketing, and many more.

It depends on the position of course. For a junior designer, only portfolio matters…we don’t think about management skills at all at that stage. For a Senior designer or a Lead designer, it is a bit different: working with a team and understanding our business beyond styling (marketing, customers, technology, etc…) becomes as important as being creative.

What are your views on future mobility?

It is a very exciting time because everything is possible. Carbon Neutrality objectives and remote working trends are changing the way we move and then the way vehicles are designed. We think differently and see things as a whole, as an ‘ecosystem’. The level of creativity will have to be at his best! 

What impact does COVID have on the automotive industry?

One impact among many is that as long as the virus is a threat, cars will become suddenly a kind of ‘safe’ mobility solution. In big cities, people try to avoid public transportation for instance. It could lead our industry to take different values into consideration when creating a vehicle. Cars will become more and more an extension of your home rather than a ‘powerful racing machine’ like it was during the last century.

Any piece of advice you have for upcoming transportation design students?

The new generation of car designers will have to be very agile and multitask. Creativity and sketching are only starting points. They must create their digital model by themselves and they must be able to explain their ideas y making videos including animations, texts, music, etc… it’s almost an entire design studio team in one person! Being curious is mandatory !…good knowledge about car culture, product design, architecture, graphic design, cinema, fashion design is important but understanding how society is evolving as well. At the end of the day, I think that cars or vehicles will remain a means of expression and not just a mobility solution.

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