Alister Whelan, the Creative Director at Jaguar, has been working with the company for over 14 years. But, if you ask him, it all began when he was 14-years-old. Here, the visionary behind some of the most memorable vehicles to date, shares his story exclusively to Life+Times.
Life+Times: Some might argue that you have one of the coolest jobs in the world. You’re the Creative Director, Interior Design for Jaguar. Where did you begin your career?
Alister Whelan: Thank you. It is a very cool job. I’m very privileged to work for such a wonderful brand and an extremely talented team. I studied Transport Design at Coventry University in the UK – from there I graduated with a 1st Class Hons degree and got my first job at Audi Design in Germany, as an exterior designer actually. That was a really great experience. In 2000, I heard that Ian Callum (Jaguar’s Director of Design) and Julian Thomson (Jaguar’s Director of Advanced Design) were transforming Jaguar Design, so chased the wonderful opportunity to join my favorite childhood company.
L+T: Where did your passion for automobiles, especially car interiors, stem from? Do you remember your first experience with a car?
AW: I always loved drawing since I was young boy. Art and design were my best subject at school. I also loved cars – so putting “drawing” and “cars” together made sense. When I was 14, I knew I wanted to become a car designer. I had a very inspiring school teacher and a supportive family who encouraged me to chase my dream job. Specializing in interiors came about four years into my career when I put forward a proposal for the R-D6 concept car in 2003. Ian Callum loved my fresh approach to car interiors and I’ve loved and specialized in interiors ever since. I always joke with my colleagues that the car exteriors normally get the glory but the interiors are far more difficult to orchestrate.
L+T: Do any artists or architects influence you in your work? If so, who are they? Why?
AW: No one in particular, I love all disciplines of design. I admire each and every one of our designer’s here at Jaguar – we have a great team. Aside from automotive and interiors, graphic design and photography is a huge passion of mine. I look at a lot of magazines and editorial design online. I really admire architecture, products, gadgets – anything that’s beautiful in its design, but critically that is a pleasure to use. I hate an instant style “hit” that later disappoints because it doesn’t function properly, or it’s not well executed.
L+T: You’ve been with Jaguar for over 14 years. What various roles have you held within the company?
AW: I’ve worked on many projects across Advanced and Production design studios, working my up through the “design ranks.” I guess my two most notable and favorite creations have been the interior of the XF (2008) and the F-TYPE convertible (2013). Both projects I saw from start to end – working alongside the advanced design, and production design teams. In 2011 I proudly made Chief Designer, leading the exterior and interior teams of the F-TYPE Coupe, Project 7 Concept and the C-X75 Supercar study. Now I’m Head of Interior Design for Ian Callum, – creating (and policing) the “look and feel” of all future Jaguars. This really is my dream job.
L+T: I recently took the new Jaguar F-Type convertible out for a drive. I want to know a little bit about what inspired the interiors of this vehicle? What were your reference points? With the F-Type convertible, what did you want to achieve? What did you want people to experience while both driving it and experiencing the cars luxurious elements?
AW: F-Type was very much about creating a new generation of sports cars for Jaguar. The design and product development teams set out the initial vision: the most dynamically capable Jaguars ever, wrapped up in the most beautiful forms. The interiors had to convey the sportiness and focus the drive would deliver. The unique “1+1” cockpit came about from creating that real focus for the driver – like a twin cockpit D-type. The dramatic leather wrapped grab handle created that driver focused element – all the interior lines running longitudinally down the car as opposed to across the car, enveloping the driver and passenger separately. We saw this as very exotic, beautifully crafted materials framing the driver’s controls – the sporty grab handle is a real signature for Jaguar. As well as the dramatic “architecture” of the F-Type cabin – the car has a real soul. The whole driving experience is wonderful. The ‘on demand’ technology that deploys the center vent on start-up. The way the switchgear lights illuminate sequentially (not at once like every other car ) are like an aircraft cockpit, the tactile toggle switches (inspired by the E-type) and the intuitive dual function temperature rotaries – these features use technical innovation, and design execution to convey a most heartwarming journey that brings a smile to your face. Jaguar must retain a blend of digital and analogue to create real emotion that our customers truly value, all wrapped up in the most beautiful rich materials that Jaguar is so famous for.
L+T: When it comes to conceptualizing a cars interiors, what is your first step? What are some of the initial concepts that you think about first?
AW: Well, first of all, like exteriors – all our interior design team sketch free-hand first on paper to create the hit of spontaneity and creativity. Interiors for me personally start with the big picture, the canvas – the general architecture and philosophy. Jaguar interiors for us must have unique character – you could draw them in a few lines. Then you can delve deeper into the controls, the technologies, the details, the tailored materials etc.., plus the all-encompassing emotion, charm, the British-ness, the “whole experience” as I mentioned on F-Type.