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Frank’s Vision |


Legendary industrial designer Frank Stephenson talks about his history with the world’s top car manufacturers and his more recent ventures in innovative design.

Written by: Zheran Chen

Frank Stephenson has his vision. With his name to designs from the iconic New MINI to the exciting McLaren P1, at 62, he is still passionate about design and curious about all things natural. He has risen to become one of the most influential automotive designers over the past three decades. 

Frank Stephenson sketches all the time, it’s almost a tradition for him to pick up a ballpoint pen and let his creativity flow over any surface he can find. Even during this interview, Frank sketches, it didn’t take long for a clean sheet of paper to become something truly remarkable.

Frank lives in a beautiful, quiet country house in England and is also the design director of a studio in London that bears his own name. Some would say it’s almost hard to match Frank’s past and present persona, from the illustrious design boss who ran Ferrari and shaped McLaren’s future, to the frankly speaking founder of Frank Stephenson Design (no pun intended), and even YouTuber. He is now using his creativity in almost everything: futuristic eVTOL aircraft, innovative baby protection seats, and even a supercomputer.

But there is a connection. For many people, Frank’s work has been in touch with their lives for many years, whether it was love at first sight for the lovely Fiat 500, the sheer excitement of driving a MINI through the countryside, or even the surreal feeling of seeing a McLaren P1 for the first time. Today, wherever you go, there’s bound to be a product with which Frank has some sort of involvement.

He was born in Casablanca, the same place where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman shone on the big screen. Camels, fragrances and the vibrant yet romantic culture of Morocco influenced Frank’s upbringing in many ways before the family embarked on a series of moves, first to Turkey and then to Spain, diversifying his understanding of different cultures.

It was in the year he finished high school that his life took its first turn, which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with car design. Anyone who has come into close contact with Frank will notice his muscular build, which comes from years of motocross racing in his early days. Yes, he used to be a professional motocross rider. First, he won the Junior Championship in Spain and began racing in the National Series.

But when he turned 22, his father told him to find something else to do for a living. “It was sad to end it, but my father had a point. I was good but not winning, there’s a big difference between being good and winning. I didn’t want to be done at 30, I needed to find something else I was better at”.

When Frank first heard about the Art Center College of Design (ACCD) in Pasadena, California, he immediately decided it was the place he wanted to go. “A school dedicated to automotive design; I applied without hesitation”, Frank considers his college years to be the most memorable despite the daily pressures.

“I’ve lost track of how many nights I’ve stayed up, it’s just so hard. You will always think you are gifted, but there are so many gifted people there, so I have a lot of respect for my classmates.
I think I learned more from my classmates than I did from my teachers”.

Frank is not exaggerating, there were 30 young students enrolled with him in 1983, while only six graduated in 1986. Frank was offered a Ford scholarship during his sophomore year at ACCD, which eventually became a job opportunity.
He chose to work for Ford Europe in Cologne to be near his family, and what was his first job at Ford? Designing the wheels of the new Sierra!

BMW was his next target. In July 1991 he took his portfolio to Munich and they hired him on the spot. It was a great transformation time for BMW, which had so much potential for a young designer like Frank.

A line-up of only 3, 5, 7 and 8 Series was not enough for BMW’s ambitions. Since their acquisition of the Rover Group, the German giant was considering an unprecedented expansion with new additions such as Land Rover, MINI, Triumph and Wolseley.

Frank’s supervisor at the time asked him to present an off-roader prototype using the technology of the recently acquired Land Rover in six weeks. From the current point of view, it is almost impossible.


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