If you have not picked up on it already, the way you get from point A to point B is going to be very different in the future.
The way you even work or move is poised to change too. In fact, there is a good chance that the future is going to look a lot like your favorite science-fiction movie, with films like Blade Runner and the Fifth Element coming to mind.
You have already caught a glimpse of these unique technologies from leading technology companies around the world. From Kitty Hawk’s flying car to Roborace’s F1 autonomous racing league, emerging tech like robotics and artificial intelligence have already begun reshaping our world.
So how will we begin to design this future?
Designers like Mike Turner have taken their real-world experience, appreciation for design, imaginative vision and love for science fiction to create both real world and futuristic transportation design solutions.
We decided to sit down with the Industrial Designer to gain further into both his design process and some of his favorite projects.
How much time does it take you to complete a concept? Walk us through your process?
It varies enormously. My “fee-paying” daytime work is obviously altogether more in-depth - developing and delivering production-ready solutions.
Projects in a professional environment can often run to months - but I’ve known some to take literally YEARS!
For the “spare time” projects like Chimaera which is purely conceptual, I normally choose to limit myself to a much tighter schedule - and obviously cut corners with the depth and breadth of what’s being proposed.
These are basically 3D sketches - enough to capture the character and hint at the purpose & tech, but they’re only scratching the surface in terms of feasibility. For these types of “brain-out fun investigations” I tend to find 40-60 hours is more than sufficient to get it out of my system.
In terms of the process:
Some tech background research always helps. Sometimes this will be enough to let me jump straight into a 3D Alias model to begin blocking things out, establish a relative sense of scale. Pretty much all projects in my portfolio start out with a 3D CAD package containing human ergonomics - I’ll always build around people; the required human space claims.
Once I’ve got a basic CAD package layout, I’ll quite often sketch over this in 2D - Photoshop & Wacom, etc, to quickly explore bodywork volumes/features, etc. Once I’ve found something I like, I start to see how it works in Alias 3D. 3D is such a cool Design tool and valuable breakthrough, as it lets you really understand what’s going on from all angles, whereas a traditional 2D sketch doesn’t resolve forms adequately - it’s ambiguous.
Normally then, I’ll start iterating 3D Alias design - to tweak and refine details and features, explore further options - breaking back out into 2D to do quick Photoshop paint-overs if a more radical departure comes to mind.
Once things are starting to make sense, I’ll also pull work-in-progress geometry into vRED so I can begin setting up draft versions of the final renders - start testing lighting and shaders.
After a few more iterations in and out of Alias, vRED and Photoshop, it starts to feel like I ought to stop. If I find myself starting to obsess about micro details it’s time to hang up my spurs and hit the “final render” button.
As I said before, these aren’t meant to be flawless concepts - they’re just meant to get people talking and thinking about new directions. This type of concept work is generally hit and run territory.
How will transportation change in the future? Do you think it looks more dystopian or utopian? Any examples in your portfolio?
Transportation for me is a tricky subject. I see far too many Designers and manufacturers getting hung up about electric cars at the moment, but for me this solves nothing.
The problem from my perspective is congestion. Traffic. People wanting to sit in their own selfish little bubble — even if it’s increasingly gridlocked. I live in Derby U.K. — not a big city by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s utterly choked at the beginning and ends of each day. Too many cars.
Not enough commuters using public transport as well as an underfunded and inadequate public transport infrastructure. People need to get over their fear of sharing space with strangers - as the transportation issue for many of us isn’t going to go away through personal mobility.
I draw crazy concept cars as a means of escape and relaxation, but my day job currently is designing public transport (trains, buses, metros, trams, etc.) - because I believe it’s the right thing to be committed to as a transportation Designer.
I see concept vehicles and digital escapism such as Gaming as being a magic bullet for many.
Many of us want the exhilaration and freedom of personal mobility - driving fast with no speed limits, taking risks, exploring and socializing.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen racing games evolve from being a few implausible pixels to a truly immersive photoreal collaborative VR simulations. I’ve seen car companies embrace this, and start designing concept cars for games, and license pixel-perfect representations of their classic designs.
So again, my portfolio covers this type of hedonistic escapist vehicle...never really intended to be built physically - but only a few milliseconds away from being uploaded and thrashed online.
What’s the story behind your IVT Chimaera project alongside Peter Spriggs?
IVT (Industrial Vehicle Technology) is a cool U.K. industry magazine I’ve enjoyed for years - it’s a serious enough journal looking at all aspects of Industrial Vehicle design & manufacture (construction machines - diggers, dump trucks, loaders, lifters, etc) but part of the mag is given over to Industry design trends - bodywork and cabs.
The Editors there ran an ongoing monthly “competition” to showcase new ideas around set briefs - aiming at unlocking “out-of-the-box” & near/far future thinking. No prizes as such - other than the fun of being featured.
I’d done a few of these competitions already and enjoyed meeting other designers and sharing further ideas - managing to grab a front cover and raise a few eyebrows in the process.
Concurrent with this, I was supporting Undergraduate Students at Coventry University - helping to critique their work, and give practical advice & tips for how to raise their game from an Industry perspective — which is where I first met Pete.
Pete was sketching and Alias CAD modeling all sorts of hyper-cool crazy vehicles, robots, spaceships - and everything else in between — his work was already WAY off the scale.
When IVT asked me to do another concept based around the idea of “Wearable tech” I knew exactly who I wanted on my team!
We thrashed out a concept direction over a few beers. For this one, I wanted to think more about the interior cockpit space and the philosophy of how you controlled and interacted with it.
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I wanted gesture-based holographic controls, iris recognition, head tracking - augmented, overclocked, and strapped in like a fairground ride. I wanted it to be like the walker/handler unit out of the ALIENS film - but on acid - WAY bigger, more badass.
I basically gave Pete free reign to go mad on the exterior - so long as it had a big glassy bubble canopy over the operator - so that it would be clearer what was going on in the visuals. He was already sketching so much mega cool mech stuff I knew he’d nail it.
He certainly didn’t disappoint!
We did one interim review where we looked over what we had (over more beers), and I suggested he make the arms altogether bigger and nastier looking. The last thing I wanted to do was impose too much on his own vision - I wanted it to be his opportunity to go nuts and have fun. And that’s pretty much it.
He pulled some really nice bunkspeed renders together to summarise the exterior - and I think for the interior I got away with mostly Alias screengrabs and loads of photoshop overlays...we went to print - and got the front cover again!
It was a really nice opportunity to work together - and get more of an insight into how another Designer works and thinks. I loved every minute of it - and it still looks pretty badass all these years later!
What inspired the AutoUnion Streamliner 2037 Project?
Good question! - my folio is increasingly littered with my reinterpretation of classic race-cars- most of which are inspired by tales from my Dad - who’s always been a real petrolhead, as well as a gifted Engineer.
He kinda brought me up with stories, pictures, and historic film footage centered around these iconic race-cars; Vintage Porsche 917’s tearing up the opposition at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia Mercedes thrashed by Stirling Moss down horrifically narrow and twisty Italian roads: the crazy footage of Drivers ripping up the Sahara desert at breakneck speed on the Dakkar rally, Derek Bell going flat out through the “Green Hell” in his Rothmans 962, each image and story has left a deep impression on me, obviously!
With the AutoUnion Streamliner, again it’s another iconic shape - an unrivaled beast back in its heyday - and like a spaceship compared to the opposition of its time. The eerily clean body shape is very pure and very uncluttered.
In 2008, I briefly worked with VW in Potsdam, Germany - just outside Berlin. During my time there I learned that the pre-war legendary road AVUS road-racetrack that ran to the outskirts of Potsdam itself. I had to go take a look. There’s so much to see these days - but a few faded landmarks remain. It got under my skin.
Like most of these crazy car concepts, the actual raw idea ferments inside me unseen and subconscious; when it’s ready, it kinda “appears” pretty much fully formed in my imagination in terms of its character and stance - often unexpectedly.
The streamliner “arrived” in my head a few months back, and it didn’t take long to get the basics nailed down. I wanted it to be huge, sculptural and entirely uncluttered. I toyed with doing a curvy version to echo it’s the predecessor to start with - but quickly found this was feeling like far too much of a pastiche.
I wanted something modern, futuristic, and alien-looking - not even a hint of wheels or driveline. As soon as I paired things back to almost monolithic slabs, it all fell into place quickly. It’s definitely the “odd project” in my current folio - bizarrely simple - very tongue-in-cheek, and not a hint of design practicality insight - but I kinda love it?
Science fiction and technology influence each other. How much of your designs are grounded in science fiction? How much was influenced by emerging technology?
Hmm... well, there’s definitely a bit of a mix. I’ve grown up reading and watching science fiction, and work in a technology-based industry in terms of both processes used and end product delivered.
My day job is obviously grounded in “science-fact,” but part of that role is always looking at what should be adopted or encouraged next - although generally working to fairly short time-frames in terms of achievability and implementation, ie “Art of The Possible” territory.
My escapist “spare time” concept work is altogether more elliptical, out there, lost, entirely made up - but in many cases is grounded in cutting edge tech, mixed up with a bit of sci-fi Star Wars escapism; which is why you’ve got giant walking Robot Ants inspired by the Boston Dynamics Robot dogs but on an epic “Rise of the Machines” scale.
What projects are your favorite and why?
My professional work gives me the most satisfaction. I like 3D problem-solving. I like collaborating. I like taking a roomful of Industry stakeholders all with very different (often conflicting) needs and work with them methodically using simple design tools & techniques to find a solution which they can all get behind and deliver - and which delivers genuine end-user benefits.
I like the projects that are hard work - because when you get to the finish line, and you’ve helped turn conflicted individuals into a coherent team with a strong end product they collectively believe in - it feels like a REAL achievement. That’s the true power and purpose of Design, in my opinion.
What advice would you give other emerging designers out there?
- Keep your eyes and ears open - listen more than you speak - the answers and support which will help guide you are already there.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure - mistakes happen when assumptions are made / genuine understanding hasn’t been reached.
- Stay humble - stay hungry - stay curious.
- Listen to your inner voice - trust your instincts.
- Proper downtime with people you love is important. Screen-time isn’t.
- Half the planet is female - we need more female designers and leaders.
- Don’t let setbacks become poisonous.
For more of Mike Turner's and Peter Spriggs' work, be sure to click on their names to view their profiles.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article attributed some concept vehicle designs — notably the Volkswagen models — to Mike Turner alone, and thus neglected to mention Woosung Chung, a placement student who worked alongside Turner. Similar citations to ANTARES Industries, TEREX, and Turner himself — in addition to other companies — were also missing. These have been corrected to reflect proper sources. Additionally, some concept car designs initially attributed to Turner — but lacking citation — have been removed. IE regrets these errors.