Allan Macdonald interview
“I dreamt of designing a truck that my father would drive as he is a truck driver.” Allan MacDonald, designer at Scania AB in Stockholm, Sweden, has found the job of his dreams and a Cintiq 21UX Interactive Pen Display from Wacom helps him to bring those dreams to life. Allan has been using Wacom pen tablets and interactive pen displays since he started his career. After studying transport design at Coventry University, he started in car design. When he got the chance to switch to truck design however, he didn’t hesitate.
At Scania, the design department is split into five groups: exterior, interior, colour and trim, buses and accessories. Allan works for the exterior design group. He and his colleagues all work on the Cintiq 21UX using Alias, Adobe Photoshop and other design software. Although Allan would never work without the Cintiq, the very first sketch he does is still on paper. “I can’t really say why, I can only guess that I don’t think it fits my needs well enough. Although I think you can get used to this” This first sketch is then scanned and edited. “I do a lot of adjustments, colour the sketch, change the colours again, work on the shape of the truck or change the light. To be honest, you probably won’t be able to recognise the first sketch after I am through with it.” Allan laughs.
Allan believes that truck design is more difficult than car design. “With cars, the important thing is to get the shape right. The function of the vehicle seems to come second. With trucks, it is different. A truck is a tool, but it should still look good as well. Drivers that have to be on the road all day long must feel comfortable.” As the functional aspects are stronger in truck than in car design, the influence of the engineers is more important. It is therefore essential that engineering and design teams work closely together. Of equal importance is that working digitally enables the designers to quickly adjust their design sketches to changes in the truck’s functionality. Sketches and drawings are constantly sent backwards and forwards between the groups.
Unlike other product designers (e.g. fashion or household goods) a truck designer never designs an entire truck. As stated above, there are different groups for interior and exterior design as well as colour and trim and accessories. The Cintiq 21UX helps to make this process more effective. It is easy to change parts of the design and store every step for possible later use. Working with paper results in large amounts of waste and lots of files to physically archive. Also, if slight changes to the design are needed, the designer would often have to start from scratch. As Allan puts it: “If you sketch on paper and want to change something, you’re stuck.”
Allan has been working with Wacom pen tablets and interactive pen displays for quite some time now. When he was studying, he used an Intuos tablet and still has one at home, where he draws futuristically designed cars for his own entertainment.
As Allan uses his Cintiq all day long, he has adjusted every feature to his favourite settings. He puts the display flat on the stand, which enables him to physically work very close to the display. In addition, he has programmed his favourite brushes onto the buttons of the pen. Instead of using the ExpressKeys and Touch Strips, he uses keyboard shortcuts –Thus, one hand rests on the pen, the other on the keyboard. “For me, the Cintiq takes me back to basics in a very positive way. I do not need to change my workflow just because I am now working digitally. It is all very natural. I can put my effort into the design without worrying about technicalities. That’s what is really important to me.”
Kristofer Hansén, head of the design/styling department, is also impressed by the Cintiq 21UX. “Scania is the leading truck brand. We therefore need leading design to support this market position. Our designers are able to deliver a much better quality of design with the Cintiq than with any other solution.”
“The Cintiq enables me to be far more creative. If you draw on paper and you make a mistake, you have to start all over again. I have become more daring and more experimental with it. Sometimes I try things and am not sure if they will work – and can be quite astonished by the results.”
Designers at Scania AB use Cintiq 21UX Interactive Pen Displays, because:
- The display helps them to change their designs and store every creative step in the process.
- They do not have to start afresh if they change anything in the design process
- It enables them to work completely naturally without needing to change their workflow.
Allan Dad drives trucks so I’ve always been around trucks and of course everybody’s interested in cars, little boys and stuff so I was always interested but it hadn’t occurred to me somebody could actually design cars. I don’t remember exactly why or exactly when but sometime near the end of school it just popped into my head for some reason that somebody actually must design cars. I don’t really know why but from there it was just to try and find a route to be able to do that. So I started looking at the different universities and remember I found out about the course at Coventry University in England which has a course specifically for people who want to be car designers. The more I looked into it I realised it was actually a reasonably famous course and has very good links to the industry. A lot of the people who are designing the cars we drive today have been there. So I actually decided okay that’s what I want to do and spent some time putting my portfolio together and applied to Coventry. Actually I was so sure that I wanted to be a car designer it was the only course I applied for. I think some people apply to different schools and hope to get in one or the other and have a back-up plan but this is what I wanted to do so I went for it and got in. I studied there for four years and it was good fun. I did a placement, six months work experience at Volkswagen in Germany, in Wolfsburg which was a lot of fun, they were a very good studio and I learnt an awful lot. Not to take anything away from my time at Coventry but when you’re actually in an environment with some really good designers and some really professional people it’s amazing.
Ric It’s the beginning of a life time of learning really isn’t it?
Allan Yes that’s right and I had a fantastic time there, just to see how it all happens was a dream you know, I’m in a car design studio! So that was fantastic and then after that I graduated and started working at quite a large consultancy now in England doing design research. I was there for a year and then spent a year at Rover Cars which was a lot of fun and it was quite interesting actually to contrast those two companies because at the consultancy it’s a lot of different projects, you have a lot of things coming in and you obviously have to know the business as well but when you switch to a car company you tend to see things through to fruition a lot more, taking something the whole way through. I’d always planned that I wanted to design trucks and so I wrote off to Volvo Trucks and after a couple of interviews they said yes. I was there for six years and did a lot of fun work there. I would say that in my six years there that’s where I learnt the most. I was there for a long time and I saw a lot of different projects through. Then about a year ago now I just decided it was time for maybe a little bit of a change, try something new, so a year ago I moved to Sacania Trucks in Stockholm and that’s where I am now.
Ric Do you have to take on a new philosophy in design or do you bring your own philosophy and concepts with you?
Allan That’s an interesting question actually and of course given that I moved from one company to a competing company it’s an even more interesting question. I think a bit of both but of course as a designer you have a little bit of your own style especially in the way you draw. I think it’s inevitable that something of your style will come out but of course it’s very important to spend some time to find out the company values and the look and feel of the company you work for, really what they stand for. You’re designing a product for them, it’s not for you. Does that make sense?
Ric Yes absolutely.
Allan And of course since my Dad’s a truck driver I’ve been around trucks a long time and I understand them very well. They’re in my blood.
Ric That smell of diesel?
Allan Exactly and I feel that I intuitively understand the differences between the brands just given that I’ve been aware of them for such a long time.
Ric You’ve spent a lot of time building up your drawing skills, at what point did you adopt digital tools as part of your drawing process?
Allan My first job actually, that’s an easy question to answer because at Coventry I don’t know the reason why but we didn’t have those tools there and so it never really happened. I’d never even actually used the internet which seems really bizarre when you look back on it now.
Ric In a lot of ways it’s good to keep everything fairly focused and pure at the training stages. I trained completely traditionally, but then again there weren’t any digital tools in those days.
Allan I wouldn’t say there was a reason for it, I don’t know if it was a budgetary thing or something but I just never came across them. I don’t even really remember it crossing my mind that you could really draw digitally. Having said that when I remember at my first job I don’t ever remember it feeling strange how we could work digitally with Photoshop and such things. Are you familiar with Alias?
Ric Absolutely, Alias Studio Tools?
Allan Exactly so they had the tools. It was my first introduction to using a Wacom pen/tablet with Photoshop, and using Alias, all of those things. It wasn’t so fun at the time but I do remember one of the ways I learnt Photoshop. Every time there was a presentation they would scan in all these different drawings and sketches and have me using the lasso tool to cut out these sketches and put them onto a presentation board. I guess you’re pretty familiar with Photoshop too and remember the first time you used the lasso tool. It can get a bit complicated, it’s a weird tool the first time you use it.
Ric Well with a mouse it’s pretty cumbersome.
Allan Exactly but I got into doing all that and just slowly picking up all these skills. The first time you really get into digitally rendering is a revelation. I’m sure you’re aware of that too, you just find you can try so many different things. For me I thought the most exciting thing was just as a personal development thing on how to draw. You can learn how to draw better and much faster because you can try so many different things which you might be scared to do on paper. You’ve got to get it right on paper, you make a mistake and you’ve got to throw it away but Control Z is a fantastic feature.
Ric Of course layers was a god send when that occurred.
Allan Exactly, you can try different lighting situations a what you’ve drawn, try out different headlamps. It’s really so versatile.
Ric How long have you been using a Wacom pen/tablet?
Allan About eight years and actually on Cintiqs for around five years.
Ric So you’ve gone through the evolution of Wacom pen/tablets?
Allan Yes the first one I had was I the big beige one, I don’t know which model that was.
Ric Do you notice much change in sensitivity and control with features like tilt?
Allan To be honest no and when you mention the tilt that’s one part of the function I’ve never used. I have some colleagues who use Painter of course.
Ric Yes you get tilt functionality in Painter that’s correct.
Allan To be honest I don’t think they even use the tilt functionality. It’s a little bit of a better program for drawing, sketching fast movements, the maths behind it is a little bit better I think than Photoshop for doing this type of work. In Photoshop it doesn’t seem to support tilt so I’ve never really used it but the pressure thing I’ll be honest I don’t notice the difference. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about.
Ric And so you’re working on a Cintiq 21UX these days?
Allan Yes. I think I’ve tried them all. I had the 18, the first one that came out with the big frame and then so on and so forth.
Ric And have you had a chance to play with the Cintiq 12WX?
Allan To be fair everybody here has a Cintiq 21UX and of course coming down to the little 12” one feels a little bit like a backward step so it was always going to be a little bit of unfair trial in that regard. One of the nice things about it I find, and you might find this a bit funny is it was fantastic for surfing the internet because it was so light and small and you could sit it on your lap. I was discussing with one of my colleagues what he would look for in improvements to the Cintiq 21UX and of course it’s the size and bulk of it he’d like reduced but I guess you’re all aware of that. I don’t really know anybody who’s ever really lifted it off the stand to actually sit it on their lap and sketch. The one time I’ve done it is when you have some engineers coming for a meeting and you just want to show off, you do it then.
Ric I’ve heard of people mounting them on mechanical arms so as to have a little more ergonomics that way.
Allan I’m kind of used to it and I actually don’t notice but at first I remember wondering where to put the keyboard and I had ideas to mount it on the table top and such things. Now I don’t think about that, it’s not a problem.
Ric Tell us a little bit more about your work?
Allan I enjoy my work. Basically I get paid to draw things, which is fantastic.
Ric Is your work all in 2D or 3D as well? You mentioned Alias Studio Tools so are you actually involved in taking your visualisations through the 3D modelling process?
Allan I use Alias now called Autodesk Studio Tools so yes and of course I’m designing 3D objects so I have to understand, even when I draw it in 2D what I am trying to say in a 3D object and so I have to understand what I’m drawing here. Whether I give it to an Alias/Autodesk modeller, a CAD modeller or a clay modeller, I have to at least understand it. Yes you’re correct, of course I work in 3D as well so maybe the first very rough model is built by me.
Ric And so what other application do you use?
Allan I build in Alias/Autodesk so yes I make a rough model. My job though isn’t to be an Alias/Autodesk modeller but it’s an advantage to be able to use it and thrash out some shapes.
Ric What about applications like Autodesk’s MudBox and Pixologic’s ZBrush, are they tools that are starting to be used in car/truck design?
Allan I’ve never even heard of those.
Ric ZBrush has been used a lot in the film industry for sculpting and facial detail. It crosses the digital bridge between 2D and 3D.
Allan It’s interesting you mention film production because I think one difference certainly in automotive design and perhaps as well product design is the importance of surface quality. In film it’s purely sculpture but in the automotive you have to think about highlights and leading into the radius with things that have curvature or tangency. I’m assuming there’s a different kind of Maths involved. I know when working with 3D Studio Max or Maya there’s a different way to model. Alias/Autodesk Studio Tools is much more precise in what it does for surfaces.
Ric Of course Alias Studio Tools was built from the ground up for an industrial designer although it’s interesting because Autodesk has bought MudBox from its previous owner and they’ve been doing a lot of work with it and I would imagine to bring into their suite of products as part of the workflow so you may find it popping up at some point as something useful.
Allan It’s an interesting thing you say because if you say the art of sculpture and to do it different people can have different ways and when different methods come it might bring different qualities to the process but of course this is kind of, I wouldn’t want to use the word the standard way to do it because maybe it’s not. It’s how it tends to happen in the automotive industry.
Ric http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh1Qy6OvI1A There’s some interesting stuff on You Tube showing this type of product being used with multi touch and a more human and tactile interaction to the software. Maybe it’s too early to ask you what you think about this but it’s certainly a developing field that I’m very interested in.
Allan I always just find it fascinating that you could be looking at the model on the screen and actually just push your hand against the surface and pull it out. It could be really interesting but probably one of those things you don’t really know how it would feel.
Ric How do you sketch down your thoughts?
Allan I use Photoshop for 2D work. Other people may just draw on paper, some people use Painter and other tools like Sketch Book Pro. In the beginning of a project working in 2D is the fastest way to get as many ideas, thoughts and suggestions as possible down to have something visible to discuss. Generally when a project starts that’s what we do, we sketch a lot of things and get them up on the wall. The design chiefs come in and say they like the direction or maybe try it with a little bit of something else and so we start a discussion. Of course more sketches follow and at a certain point it starts to slowly progress into 3D. Usually it begins with some CAD and either the designer or CAD modeller starts putting a model together. Sketching is continuous through all of the process but then as well you have a 3D model to discuss. In most cases in the automotive industry at some point clay models are developed and you can work on that, even sketch on that. It’s actually interesting because I wrote down on one of my notes here one of the nice things about being digital is when you have a clay model you can take some pictures of it, bring it back to the computer, sketch on the photos of the clay and print it back out. It’s easier to explain to your modeller what your aiming at which would be difficult to do on a real photo.
Ric Is the design process constantly evolving?
Allan For me personally I don’t see a great deal of change. Of course the digital thing has become stronger and stronger, computers get faster and the CAD programs get more powerful and of course the 3D rendering tools become much stronger for instance Alias/Autodesk Showcase. The new tool from Alias for surface rendering over 3D models so it looks photo realistic. You can spin around in real time and see the car from different angles. Those kinds of things are progressing very fast now since rendering in Alias eight years go was something that took a lot of time. Setting up your render and getting all the lights in the right place, do a test and make adjustments could take many hours if not days to get a really nice render. Now that’s something we do virtually in real time. HDRI technology allows us to build a photo realistic environment around the model and fulfils all the lighting needed for the model as well as the reflections. It’s a much faster part of the process. Generally though it’s still a 2D process we go through slowly progressing to a 3D process and then eventually ending up as a product. I guess it’s fair to say it relies more on the real as opposed to the digital. We still want to see a clay model because as good as these programs get it’s absolutely no substitute for seeing the thing in front of your own eyes and be able to touch it and walk around it.
Ric Are these full scale?
Allan We do both. We do smaller scale versions at the start.
Ric That must be pretty impressive seeing a full size clay truck?
Allan They’re very heavy I can say that. The process usually starts in some kind of a scale model, maybe a quarter because you can move the clay around faster and then eventually to a full size truck, the same as in the car industry. I remember when the digital thing really started to take off you’d hear a lot of talk about oh we don’t need the clay anymore but my personal feeling is you’ll always need the clay, you’ll always need something in front of you at some point in the process. Having said that, the digital process makes the clay modelling stage faster and more efficient because you can try things out digitally and see if it looks good before you have to start pushing clay around. I use rapid prototyping machines to build quick models, have it printed out in three dimensions to hold, look at and discuss.
Ric Is there anything that you would Wacom to develop in the future.
Allan Wacom Cintiqs or any of the Wacom tablets for that matter are still a two dimensional interface. I was thinking more along the lines of bring it into a three dimensional interface with up, down, left, right and near to far if you see what I mean?
Ric A spatial interface?
Allan Yes exactly. Though you will need the right kind of feel if you’re trying to push a surface, it might feel so unnatural that it doesn’t work but if it works it will be fantastic.
Ric It would need some sort of field that creates friction.
Allan Yes that would be great so it you close your eyes it would feel like you really were manipulating the surface with your hands. I think that would be awesome.
Ric The movie Iron Man presents some nice concepts for the industrial designer or engineer. 3D prototyping is done using holographic projections, moving things across screens just by pointing a pen. Minority Report presents the glove concept and throwing images around the screens. There’s some interesting stuff there and certainly some innovation is going on in this field of interface technology. I think it’s really got to do a lot with good collaboration between software and hardware technologies also the end users themselves bringing the right questions to be answered.
Allan Well then back to now my Wacom Cintiq21UX is not very mobile and when I’m working with all these different people including my CAD modeller, the clay guys, many engineers and so on, there’s a lot of meetings and so it would be fantastic to have some kind of drawing tool which would come with me. When in these meetings we could sit down and we could sketch out ideas together.
Ric So portability but on the scale of the Cintiq 21UX?
Allan Yes. We tried the Cintiq12WX but personally I just felt a little bit cramped on that size screen.
Ric The thing I feel the Cintiq12WX really has in its favour is this ability to move from one screen to the other with a new button that’s included on the top of the express keys.
Allan I didn’t try that.
Ric That really opens up a few things because then you can think of it as a Intuos3 6×11 pen/tablet which also can function as a small and light Cintiq.
Allan I didn’t know that.
Ric It’s really a hybrid between Cintiq and Intuos. That’s basically where I saw the greatest advantage with that particular product and the fact that you can sit back with it to do a bit of sketching and so it doesn’t replace the Cintiq21UX. Allan thankyou for being on the Art of Making Marks.
Allan My pleasure.