Editions - Design Presence

Mind Monologues

by Alan Sheppard

Alan Sheppard, Head of Interior Design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, worked on the design team for both the Rolls-Royce Phantom family and the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Here he talks about his experiences designing the respective cars.

Alan Sheppard sees the role of a designer as someone who creates a tangible product by sharing their imagination with customers. His imagination was responsible, along with the rest of the design team, for the unique look of the interior for both Phantom and Ghost.

For both cars, the process began with the creation of a written document called a 'mind monologue'. This is a verbal blueprint, written to crystallise the thoughts of the design team, and to help communicate the tone and personality of the car both inside and out.

This acted as a launch pad, along with more visual tools such as sketches and models, and was vital in establishing the balance of attributes for the car. If the team were having a debate about proportions, trim or interior content they would refer back to the mind monologue.

The design team on Phantom was a close-knit group, who came together for the first time in the year 2000 to think what a Rolls-Royce in the 21st Century should be like.

When creating the mind monologue for Phantom, the design team began by focussing on the golden era of Rolls-Royce between 1930 and the late 1950s. They wanted to capture the spirit, optimism and glamour of the cars created during this era such as Phantom II, Phantom II Continental and Phantom III, while beginning to think about the requirements of the potential modern Rolls-Royce customer.

Although Sheppard now reflects that this first monologue for Phantom was slightly regal and pompous, it did begin the process of thinking about a car without compromise.

In designing the interior of the Phantom, the team asked themselves a question, "If you're driving from one beautiful place to another beautiful place in the most beautiful way you can, what kind of car do you drive? And should you have to go through not so beautiful places, what kind of car do you need?"

This led them to design a car with an interior that accommodated all the requirements for the best ride and the best comfort. A car with no compromises when it came to seating position and headroom. If that required the car to be much larger and more expensive than other luxury cars of the time, then so be it.

It also prompted them to think about Phantom as a car that utilised incredible craftsmanship, a car with a sense of human nature, made for you.

When creating the mind monologue for Ghost, Sheppard had a very different starting point. He began with the analogy of choosing the right pair of shoes. The perfect pair of shoes need to feel comfortable whatever the circumstances and surroundings.

This helped him to define the essence of Ghost. "Its personality allows it to transcend the normal confines of large, luxury cars. It is unlikely to be wrong footed when events set a different course to those which were planned."

Sheppard also draws attention to its combination of modernity and tradition. "It defines its time with its contemporary style, the proficiency of its detailing, the very best technology and manufacturing techniques."

The other aspect of Ghost, is its innate driveability. He refers to "its forward leaning facia, upward sweeping arc of the centre console, the dynamic black silhouette of the side windows framed by the thrusting form of the flying buttress of the roof canopy trim and the generous bucket seating for four set that little bit lower all imply a definite sense of latent, effortless power."

But there are similarities to Phantom, when it comes to discussing the need for man made craftsmanship in the Ghost's interior.

"A fascination and respect for the traditions and abilities of the artisan, opens up authentic possibilities denied to those vehicles with engineering origins firmly rooted in methods of mass production."

Just as the monologues differ, so too does the end result. The interior of the Phantom is more architectural, in that the structure of the car works in the way a building is put together; the framework is sharp cornered, and the car is very upright.

Ghost by contrast is not about perpendicular. It's about svelte, lithe vertical lines falling into the horizontal. It creates a feeling of fluidity by keeping the eye moving.

But when you look at the two cars, both share a sense of the exotic, something taken from another world. Sheppard was very keen not just to design high tech interiors, but to create interiors that have a personality. To do this he wanted to ensure that there are surprising details that hold our attention. He also believes that as a designer, when things feel right, they are right.

So although the journey to finished car was a long one, The Rolls-Royce Phantom and Ghost both owe their appearance to the same thing: A set of words on a page.