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Frank Stephenson is a luxury car designer who has made a huge name for himself working with brands like BMW, Ferrari and McLaren. Design has always been a fundamental part of Frank’s life. In fact, when I asked Frank what he would be if he wasn’t a designer, he froze and replied “nothing… I was always meant to be a designer.

Over the past few decades, Frank has worked in Germany, Italy, America and Japan among many other countries, but over the last year or so, we have all experienced lockdown and
been confined to our homes. That said, Frank hasn’t stopped revving the engines. Instead, he has adapted to the new way of working, and has even designed a jet using virtual technology, entirely from the comfort of his own home studio.

I was lucky enough to speak to Frank Stephenson to find out about his fascinating life in the design world, but also dive into more depth behind his work: Where does he get his invaluable inspiration from? Where does he see the future of transport heading? And how has travel influenced his career?

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Frank, you’ve become an iconic designer working with car brands like Ferrari and McLaren. What have been your most memorable and also most challenging cars to design?

Well they’re all memorable and they’re all challenging. It’s hard to pick a specific car or brand that is more enjoyable working on than others, but the ones that give me the most satisfaction are the ones that have reached the largest number of people in terms of sales. It’s incredibly fun to design what you call hypercars or supercars, but these types cars reach a very small minority of the public. They are sold to people who don’t actually need a supercar, they just desire a supercar. So when you are designing a supercar, you can be bolder in your design. If you don’t like it, then don’t buy it, right?

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There’s a fine balance between taking an iconic car, and bringing it into the modern world. You’ve have done that so well with both the MINI and the Fiat 500.

When we were tasked with reinterpreting the 21st century MINI, there were 15 of us proposing designs for it. Each designer had their own approach. For me it was important to carry the emotion of the past, with the technology of the future. In other words, I wanted to keep the connection with the old MINI, but do it in a modern way. The MINI didn’t change for 40 years. So like you said, I sketched up the model of how it could have evolved every 10 years, tweaking it and modernising it according to that period in history. This led me to the design of the 1999 MINI, in an evolutionary way.

Most other designers just did what they thought a 21st century MINI should look like and felt it doesn’t have to look like the original. I thought the Mini was too iconic to just design something from scratch and I wanted to respect the original design.

I had the same thing when I designed the Fiat 500. I had 10 months to design a car that would revive Fiat. We didn’t have the time to start from scratch so we had to revive the original. I designed it as a cute and customisable which would be appealing to both genders.

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In your Netflix documentary Chasing Perfect, you describe that throughout harsh circumstances and environments, nature still comes out on top. Can you describe how nature has influenced some of your iconic designs?

Nature completely inspires my designs. The holy grail of design is to create a design piece that will last a long time, making it far more than just a trendy product. And I think the best examples of timeless design are in nature. In other words, nature doesn’t do trendy. Nature is all about survival, so things are designed to work as well as they can, or adapt, for the longevity. So if you take inspiration from nature, you are bound to end up with something that looks good for a long period of time.

Nature is also complicated yet tends towards simplicity. It may perform complicated functions, but it does it in the most simplistic way. The same is applied for car design. If I can design a car using less lines than more lines, I know I am on the right path. Good design has always been about reducing rather than adding so if you have to add, then you are forcing it. On the other hand, if you go too simple then it’s boring, so there is a fine balance.

“Some of my car designs were influenced by the vibrancy of both Morocco, Southern Spain, and Turkey which was a beautiful blend between Europe and Asia.”

Issue 3 Mag and iphone

Read Frank's full interview inside Issue 3

This article was first published in issue three of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.