Car enthusiasts will surely remember the Art & Science Era, that blocky, chunky, right-angle-heavy styling that defined Cadillac some ten years ago. Well, it’s safe to say those days are in the rearview mirror. After a successful reinvention of the brand, Cadillac is ready for a softer approach that reflects the evolution of modern luxury. Cadillac’s Exterior Design Manager Taki Karras discussed with AD how the brand is about to undergo a significant evolution of its design theories:
Taki Karras: Escala represents an evolution of our brand’s design philosophy. From the introduction of the first CTS (in 2002), when we started the Art & Science phase of our design philosophy, those vehicles were all really meant to grab a lot of attention for the brand, really hit people over the head with design, and get the brand noticed. As the brand has evolved, the product has changed into something a bit more sophisticated. That’s the direction we are going.
AD: So less of hitting people over the head?
TK: We’ll be refined. The way we’re going to do it is through simplicity and proportion. Proportion is the element that Cadillac has always tried to create: something unique that has a lot of presence on the road. But we won’t be doing it with flashy flamboyance—not a lot of chrome or all of the traditional things you might see in automotive realms. We’re taking a more simple, clean, and sophisticated approach to design.
AD: Is there a name for this sophisticated design, like “Art & Science”?
TK: We’re not saying that we’re not doing Art & Science anymore. It’s just a much more tailored and refined execution of that philosophy. The best kinds of design philosophies are ones that you can ramp up or down and still have the opportunity to make a consistent, lasting message. We’re definitely not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s tailoring it to the right type of product and consumer. … When we talk about proportions, it’s both interior and exterior design. Simple and clean is the hardest thing to do. If you don’t have the fundamentals right, you can’t execute a clean design.
AD: Looking at Escala in particular, and your own design philosophy generally, what are your points of inspiration outside of cars?
TK: Lighting is a big deal for us. There was this image of a very clean interior space with flooded lights along a wall that created a razor-thin band of light on the floor. It was such a clean environment that had this really precise, technical execution of light bands flooded from a source you couldn’t see. It was an architectural space, but it forced us to think about lighting in an untraditional way.
AD: There are a lot of shapes on this car. How would you describe the shape of the tail light?
TK: We knew we had to develop a lighting signature that was vertical—and the vertical element had to be dominant. But we also knew we wanted to let your eye go around the corner of the vehicle. What we ended up with was the sketch that everybody loved. It was taking this horizontal element and allowing your eye to get around the corner of the vehicle but still have a very dominant vertical blade. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but from a design-team standpoint this was a huge paradigm shift for us. We were enabling something that we had struggled with in the past, and it’s one of those things that you have to be very careful with. At some point, you have to honor your brand, and your brand is key and paramount.
AD: In your studio, where do you start: design or engineering?
TK: It’s a little bit of both. It depends what product you’re working on. If you’re developing a car like this, it’s definitely design. This is all about evolving the design philosophy. It’s about creating a statement for the design studio to hold on to, so that they have a road map of where they’re going to take the brand. But when you’re working on a V-series product, it’s definitely engineering-focused. There are so many critical things that are super-important to the performance of the vehicle that are paramount. You have to take those elements and figure out design solutions that make it work but also adhere to our DNA and make it uniquely Cadillac. So, it’s both.
AD: Do any specific buildings inspire you?
TK: Especially how it relates to Cadillac, midcentury modern buildings in general. We’re lucky enough to work in an Eero Saarinen space, where our technology center is located. For as many difficulties as there are to work in a building from the ’50s, in terms of IT problems, you have to pinch yourself every day you walk into that space. It’s just this beautiful, simple, clean, precise mentality to design that really reflects on the strength of the Cadillac brand.