Audio Visual

Designers of the new Ford Taurus used diverse music to help set the mood for 3-D creativity
Photograph Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

How many music lovers get to enjoy their favorite tunes at work? How many can apply them to the job they do? Ford design manager Earl Lucas is one lucky guy.

“When I’m traveling to work,” he says, “I’m trying to get into the right mood, the right creative spot, and [music] helps me get ready. I listen to it in the car, then put it on again when I get to work and listen as I’m sketching.” Between meetings, he can be found with his headphones on. His young creative team, though diverse, shares similar tastes in music.

His personal playlist includes Citizen Cope, Anthony Hamilton, Paul Oakenfold, Alicia Keys, and Detroit artist Kem. “There are times when you want to be amped, and times when you want to be more reflective and conscious of what you’re doing,” Lucas says. “Kem’s ‘Cherish This Moment,’ talks about being positive about what you’re going through at the moment, and cherishing those moments, because they may never come again. It makes you humble and thankful for your opportunities, with a nice beat, kind of subtle jazz.

“Anthony Hamilton stands out for me personally, because his music is saying something as well as entertaining. He sings ballads and romance, but once in a while, he’ll throw in an upbeat song. I relate to him because he talks to emotional experiences that I’ve had.”

Lucas grew up in Dallas, where he attended the noted Arts Magnet High School that launched recording artists Norah Jones and Erykah Badu. He came to Detroit to study transportation design at the College for Creative Studies, which led him to a post-degree job designing upscale aircraft interiors before joining Ford’s design staff in 1998.

It was Ford senior designer Dean Carbis who introduced Lucas to Citizen Cope, “who sings all over the gamut … more folk, but upbeat, with percussions and movement,” Lucas says. “He’s very appropriate to where we were taking Taurus … more of a ‘me’ sedan than a functional family car. We wanted to dial up the aspirational aspects, and that music really attached itself to it.”

Lucas says he also found music useful in selling his team’s ideas. “A lot of times, before we would show a proposal — in the power wall area, where we can view a full-size product on a giant computer screen — we have a captive audience and control the environment. We can set the mood with the lighting and music and have the presentation relate to the music. We did this within the team and with senior management, to show what we wanted to do and set the tone that this Taurus was going to be a fashionable car, not just a practical car. We knew it had to speak to a diverse group of people, so we chose artists who do the same with their songs.”

The music helped get everyone on the same playing field, he says, understanding that the design they were going for represented a major change in attitude and personality — much sportier, more athletic, and more expressive than the Taurus it would replace. It helped inspire not only senior management, but also the entire product development team, including engineering and marketing, to hit the styling “sweet spot” his designers were after.

Lucas says most designers listen to music for inspiration. “There’s a certain foggy area where you understand the requirements, but they’re not pressing you, where you’re laying down and understanding new shapes, getting to the core of analyzing shape, color, value, and texture, and relating to the next shape and form. You lose track of time. You don’t worry about all the peripheral things around you. That’s when the music really helps you.”