There are cars that we respect, brands that we admire and then there are..
legendary masterpieces that we can only dream about!
Narendra Singh Chhetri, our next pathbreaker, discovered his passion for car design at Maruti Suzuki, that led him to the mecca of Car Design, IAAD, Turin Italy for a Masters degree in Automotive Design.
After working with renowned brands like Audi, BMW and Porsche, and when he thought he had seen it all, Narendra got the opportunity to work as Exterior 3D Designer for the legendary Ferrari.
He talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from the Interview Portal about his experience working at Ferrari and what sets the Ferrari apart from other cars!
A long but fascinating interview about Narendra’s inspiring design journey from the immensely respected Maruti Suzuki to the iconic Ferrari !, a great read for prospective car design students!
Narendra, tell us about your background?
Its my privilege to participate in this interview. I always admire young students and want to help them through my experiences. I was born and brought up in the divine yoga city of Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. I come from a humble Gorkhali ( Nepali speaking ) family. My father is a retired Govt. official from UPCL (Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited ) and my mother is a House Wife.
I did not have a creative background nor was there a creative profession in my family. I was quite studious from the very beginning. During my school days in Modern School Rishikesh I was interested in drawing simple landscapes, gods and goddesses and also some portraits of freedom fighters, so that was the first sign of creative interest in me. Apart from this I had fascination for cars from childhood but ironically I do not remember if I drew any car as a child.
I passed my 12th (Science , Mathematics and Computers) with good percentage which gave a big boost to my career aspirations. Around this time I had made up my mind to pursue something related to automobiles. There was no one to guide me professionally, so the major decision was mine. So I was going with the flow. Based on the trends those days when I passed school in 2007, one could go for Engineering, Medical or Defence. I also gave AIEEE, IIT and NDA exams. But UPES, Dehradun was my choice as I got offered the course I wanted, “ Automotive Design Engineering” and this was the first step in my journey in the Automotive world. I was quite happy about it.
One thing that motivates me is that I got to know that I am the first person from the Gorkhali community to be in Automotive Design field and we are just 2 well established now in this profession, It makes me proud !
What did you do for graduation?
I did my graduation from UPES – University Of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India but that time I was not aware about Automotive Design or Car Design in General.
There is a difference between Automotive Design and Automotive Design Engineering.
Automotive Design is mainly focused on the Design part of Automobiles, be it a bike, car, bus or any other mode of transportation. It begins with market research, looking for answers about the demand for a particular product. Who are the customers for that product and the whole lot of inspiration for the same. It involves lots of creative thinking, an idea, and sketching to initially explore form and functionality. Then comes the development. Engineering and Technical aspects are always there in the design process.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
I did not have any key influencers as such because it was my own research and interest towards my career, so I was the one who chose this career.
My family is the strongest pillar in my career, providing moral and financial support. My parents, brother, sisters and my wife everyone has been very supportive.
I would like to mention specifically my parents and my wife who have been an immense support in my journey and I have huge respect for them. My parents did whatever they could to help me grow professionally and build my career. I am always indebted to them. My wife has been together with me in my journey and she is always there in my ups and downs, which is incredible and I feel lucky to have her in my life as it is not easy to adapt to the situations when you are away from home. She has been a key factor in this journey.
I would like to thank all the other important people who have contributed to my journey. Hearty thanks to all of you.
Apart from family I would like to mention Mr I.V Rao ( https://auto.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/the-man-behind-maruti-suzukis-robust-and-invincible-rd-bows-out-after-36-years/69769190 ) . He is the person who first saw my passion and enthusiasm for Car Design and supported and guided me further in my first step at Maruti Suzuki India Limited and for my further studies for Automotive Design Masters. He is very humble and a nice human being.
When I was in 2nd year of my graduation we had a poster design competition in the University at UPES Dehradun, an event called Auto Aura . I participated in this competition with my colleague Gaurav Mehra. We sketched and designed a lot of cars in two big posters and the theme was to show the evolution of Car Design from the old era to the modern era. We sketched and prepared it till early morning and were quite excited. Next morning at the event our work was a surprise and a show stopper. Everyone was admiring it and taking pictures and we undoubtedly won first prize. This was the turning point which was the trigger in my mind to explore Car Sketching and Car Design. After that there was no looking back. I researched extensively in the internet ,Google, LinkedIn, everywhere and by the end of next few years, already knew that Automotive Design itself is a profession of extreme passion and excitement. I now started thinking of becoming a part of it and thereafter everything was planned to achieve the same.
The second turning point was when I got selected in the Maruti Suzuki Campus recruitment drive. This was the time when I got a first glimpse of the Design Studio at Maruti which opened my eyes into the wonderful world of Car Design and made me even more hungrier to get in. Fortunately, after a lot of effort trying to get to the Modelling Department, based on my passion and skills, whatever I had at that time, I got into the department and started working as Creative 3D Designer. I learnt lot of things, almost like a Bachelor of Design course which became a strong base for me to opt for a Masters in Transportation Design. I used to participate in more than one activity, for example, I used to do 3D Modelling as well as Clay Modelling. Industrial clay is a special clay which is used in Automotive Companies to shape car exteriors and interiors during the design and development phase, as this clay can be easily deformed at certain temperature, around 60 degrees in the clay oven.
During this period I worked towards my admission for the Masters in Design program by preparing my design portfolio as well which got me accepted in the Italian Design University called IAAD which was in the car design cultural city of Turin in Italy. So in total I researched and prepared myself for higher education in design career from my 3rd year of B.Tech, around 4 to 5 years of self-research, preparation, learning etc. I prepared my portfolio for admission into one of the most prestigious Design Universities across the globe, IAAD, Turin, Italy. Due to my hard work and passion for Car Design I was fortunate to get an opportunity to study in Italy.
Both images during my Masters in IAAD,Italy
This image is in the Eicma – The Annual Bike Show in Milan, Italy with former Design Chief , BMW Motorrad ,Ola Stenegard
Me with former BMW Design chiefs , Anders Warming (Left ) & Karim Habib ( Right ) in Italy
How did you get your first break?
Well my real first break was my first job in Europe. I use to write lot of messages with my CV & Portfolio in LinkedIn to various professional guys and one company offered me a job in Germany and I just took it. This company gave me a Design Task for selection and I did it successfully. So there is lot of passion and hard work behind all this.
Mahindra internship was my first step into the industry after graduation as I was able to see how things are manufactured. I was in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand Plant of Mahindra Tractors. Here I did 4 months project to reduce “Gear Noise in the Gear Box”. It was very good learning experience for me.
I got into Maruti Suzuki Design through the engineering placement drive. As I said above, this was the turning point in my design journey in the Car Design World. I did projects like Alto k-10 and Vitara Brezza. I was designing the car’s interiors and exteriors in 3D using the software Autodesk Alias. There are lots of presentations in every stage, lots of rework after feedback and it goes on like this till the final look is achieved.
After working at Maruti Suzuki I started my Masters in Transportation Design in IAAD, Istituto D’Arte Aplicata E Design, it is one of the most renowned Design Universities in Italy and in the world. I was fortunate that my hard work paid off and I got in here.
I chose IAAD because this university is in the Car Design Hub of Europe or probably the world because Italians are the best when it comes to Car Design. Their Cars are “Beautiful “. They have Ferrari, Lamborghini,Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Pininfarina, Zagato and many more.
Further we had thesis project sponsored by Porsche, which was a strong reason to get in here and we had great time doing it.
For the benefit of young students and budding designers, can you explain the brief of your master’s thesis for Porsche 911 and how you approached it as a team?
My thesis in Masters was sponsored by PORSCHE. We were given the brief for Porsche 911’s celebration of 50th Birthday.
To imagine a visionary 911 model and how this car could transform its roots into the future, with no limit on time. The proposal was to research past generations of the 911 model and offer ways to develop the design of the car, concerning both style and technical aspects. It was supposed to be a car with different solutions, for a younger generation of customers.
This was a long process spread over 6 months where we had weekly review sessions with mentors and Design Chiefs from Porsche for further directions.
This was a good experience about the process followed in the design industry as the industry experts themselves were involved in helping us execute this thesis.
We made many sketches keeping in mind the Design DNA and heritage of Porsche which is not just a car but a culture in itself.
Several ideations and improvements followed. Photoshop renders ,3D Modelling and several other steps finally lead to the successful completion of the thesis which was as accepted by Porsche and resulted in successful completion of my master’s course.
Now lets talk about your career after completing your master’s at IAAD
After finishing my Masters in Italy, I started my design career as Design Consultant. I was fortunate to get so many opportunities as a Design Expert Consultant. With this role I was not just confined to one brand but rather doing projects for many brands in pretty much the same role, as designer. When I say Digital sculpting, Surfacing or 3D Modelling they are all the same. They relate to giving the 2D design the physical form in 3D. On few occasions I was doing Creative Design upto 3D Development. I say Design because all these terminologies come under Design itself.
With all brands I worked for, be it BMW, Audi, Ferrari, Kia, Seat Cupra, Genesis, Hyundai, Yutong Buses, Hero Moto Corp, Nio etc my role was focused on Exterior Design, especially 3D Design for BMW, Audi & Ferrari .
Going into details, we make 2D proposals for design in the form of sketches, using photoshop to render more details. Once the designs are shortlisted we start making 3D proposals to see the 3 dimensional form of the design in Autodesk Alias which is widely used in Car Design industry.
The beauty of this process is, the same 3D data is then used by milling machines to read the data and mill the model into a small scale or full scale physical model which can be in different form material, widely and most popular being industrial clay, which can be deformed into different shapes by using hands or special tools as well. This is called clay milling. If the material is something harder, meaning of high density, for example hard foam, chemical foam or even chemical wood , we call it hard milling. But in the latter case you can’t do any changes like in clay model.
3D Printing is based on the same concept, the common thing being 3D CAD Data. In design presentations you prepare a mock up of the exterior or interior design of the car and then try to create the real car. In order to do this, you need realistic looking parts. That is where we use 3D printing. We also 3D print small parts to serve the purpose, for example, Door Handles, Mirror holders, Audio knobs etc.
So my role in these processes is that of a designer with versatile skills. I participate and excel in Creative Development to 3D Design.
I have also worked with B & O (Bang & Olufsen), an extremely precise and well-known brand in Car Audios. I was doing some projects in collaboration with Ford, Toyota, Mclaren etc as they had collaborated with B & O for their car Audio system Designs. B & O comes under Harman International (JBL, Harmon Kardon ) which is a world famous audio company. The car world is interconnected. Some are bought away by others, for example, Harman International is now a Samsung Company and Pininfarina, a famous Italian Design Firm has been bought over by Mahindra & Mahindra. So I was designing the Audio systems for these clients. Interestingly, I was also designing the grill pattern for the audio grilles in the car, which was a very interesting part of my job.
You can find some images of the projects here –
Tell us about your work at Cixa Design
At Cixa Design, my role was to provide Design services to many clients like BMW, Audi, Ford, Byton , Nio, Hero Motocorp, Yutong Buses,Toyota etc. So basically Cixa Design was my company and I used to do several projects for clients mentioned above in Munich, Germany.
This type of work is really good when you start your career as you get the chance to know many people and brands. While working for them, you learn their design approach and design language, and of course, you have many brands in your CV.
My next job was Audi AG Surface Designer Senior Digital Alias Sculptor at Uedelhoven GmbH & Co. KG. During this period I was an employee of a Design Studio in Uedelhoven -GmbH & Co. KG which directly works for AUDI. I had worked many projects in this company mainly for AUDI. I also worked in projects for Hyundai, KIA, Seat Cupra, NIO. The projects used to be some show cars and some production cars. I will be sharing my website and details can be found out there.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Without challenges things can be boring and monotonous. I do not categorize them , there are many challenges in the professional world and you just strive to solve them and they are done. So really there are no specific challenges I can think about.
Tell us about your current work as Surface Designer for Ferrari?
Currently iam Surface Designer at Creative Alias in SII Desutchsland. This is my current company and I am working in Ferrari Design Studio as a 3D Designer for Ferrari Cars. It is an amazing experience to sit and work there, you get to meet a lot of talented people, get to know them and they get to know you as well. You see Ferraris all around and it is fascinating.
Believe me Ferrari is another world as I am right now working in Ferrari Design Studio as a Design Consultant for few months and it is magic here. They do not make normal cars , they make super cars, sports cars, race cars and one-off which means special cars for special private customers.
Car Design has a lot to do with Design DNA and very few companies are able to maintain their Design DNA or even have a Design DNA.
Ferrari is one of them and is very unique in the sense you that cannot simply put any other brand’s logo and try to say it is a different car. This is a simple example of the uniqueness of a Ferrari.
To know more one should read about the founder Enzo Ferrari and Ferrari history. Italians are very emotional about car design, its part of their culture. In Ferrari design, for example exteriors , you see sensation , feeling and emotions. You pay attention to the flow of lines in the design, they are not there just like that, all the lines are related to each other, it is a fluid design that is very emotional and appealing.
The other aspect is speed and design. They are related, atleast in the case of a Ferrari. They are super cars or sports cars, so speed matters. Speed is related to wind in the form of aerodynamics. I read only in studies that aerodynamics and design go side by side but when I worked in Ferrari I was executing the same principle in the project I was doing. In Ferrari aerodynamics comes in at the beginning of the design process, you have to make the car design as sleek and speedy as possible to reduce the coefficient of drag or aerodynamics wind drag. For this purpose they have a special in-house wind tunnel, where they test the car exterior surface design and give feedback for any changes in design.
I can talk on and on about the Ferrari, but in a nutshell Ferrari is magic, full of emotions, beauty and culture. If I am rich one day may be I would like to design my own Ferrari which they call a “ONE OFF “.
For a designer, what is the main difference between working on a Ferrari vs other cars?
The main difference between a Ferrari, BMW or Audi or any other car is their Design DNA or Design language. I had also worked for BMW and Audi projects. Audi is more logical in design architecture, more straight and is geometrical in construction. Other brands like Seat, VW, Skoda etc also have a similar approach. BMW is somewhat more sculptural than Audi, you could see some organic forms in some areas if talking about exterior design. They use more twisting and form changing approach in their surfaces. All in all, every car brand starts with a “Line” and then progresses with design, while maintaining the relationship between lines and curves. This is the principle for design. Aerodynamics is for all brands but it depends on what they want to achieve. What Ferrari can achieve compared to a BMW, Audi or any other brand can be way far for them to achieve as Ferrari is a completely different niche car.
I respect all brands, its a special feeling working for each brand because you love working with each brand in a unique way. I enjoyed all my work with all of them.
Currently I work in the Ferrari Design Studio in Italy and it is amazing to work here. I am working on 3D Design and Development of the Car Exteriors. So usually I start at 9 am and I start with a coffee and then it is an ongoing process of working with the team of designer colleagues together.
I have strong passion for car design and this is the main thing which drives me. Its like emotions for the Car Design, how the surfaces of the cars should be, there is a design story behind the real design.
On the skills side you must have great understanding of car design, you must be able to show your ideas either through 2D Sketching or by 3D Modelling and also rendering and all this is accompanied with some tools, softwares like Photoshop, Autodesk Alias, Keyhsot, Vred etc.
How does your work benefit the society?
Design is not only about aesthetics, it has to be functional. So this blend of aesthetic and functionality is the final outcome which benefits society.
Simply put, we work for the transportation of things or people from point A to point B, be it just for movement or be it emergency services like ambulances, fire-fighting etc. This is a general way which is linked to society as well.
Further now we are designing and making electric cars as well which is inline with environment protection and protection the world and living beings.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Well there are many such projects which I cannot disclose at the moment. I can tell you about one project which I did for a Swiss Company called “Piech Automotive” and the car was a Mark Zero Concept. It is close to me because this was the first ever sports cars I did and I did the exterior of the beautiful car.
More information can be found here : https://www.piech.com/
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Well for the students I would like to say, stay passionate and hungry to learn and explore the Car Design world. Your investment is your time. So always stay informed about what is happening around in the car design through sources like Cardesignnews.com, carbodydesign.com, form trends etc.
Students have to practice a lot and prepare a world class portfolio to be accepted in the industry. For Designers, portfolio is a must have and you should meet the standards. Have a look in Behance.com and see where the world is , that’s the level you have to strive to achieve.
Today, learning things is easier and more accessible .My advise is to use youtube and LinkedIn. These are the best platforms where you can learn things related to car design and also talk to people who are already in this field. It is the same way I was approached for this interview through LinkedIn.
So car design is not something related to reading for and writing exams. It is about practical skills, how well you can illustrate your ideas on paper, presentation skills, use of some software like photoshop, 3D skills, how can you interpret your 2D ideas into 3D which is one of the most crucial stage in design development. Its all about passion and practice.
I would also say this please do not run behind fascination of Car Design world. If you have true passion then only strive for it else do not force yourself so that it becomes a burden. It is one of the most competitive fields , there are many talented people around the world and it is like survival of the fittest.
Well I want to go with the flow, so for the moment I just want to expand my professional experience and elevate my skills and level. May be one day I would like to serve the people and society with my experience and expertise be it in a way of providing consulting services and also in the Education Services in Automotive Design.
I thank The interview Portal for giving me this chance to share my experience.
I wish all the readers and students best of luck for their future endeavours.
Feel free to contact me for any query : firstname.lastname@example.org
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