David O’Connell (TRAN, ’80)
“I think there is a huge metamorphosis, maybe even a renaissance, around this awareness that small is cool again.”
David O’Connell is chief designer at Mitsubishi Research and Design America (MRDA), where his studio is responsible for all aspects of the vehicle design development process including concept development, 2D sketching to 3D model development and mass production. His team at MRDA has received several IDSA awards and a California Biennial Design recognition. Before working with Mitsubishi, O’Connell was a designer with Automobiles Peugeot. While there, he worked in the company’s studios in Coventry, England, and at the Citroen Design Center in Paris. O’Connell is a faculty member at Art Center, where he teaches automotive design part-time and serves on the College’s Design Advisory Board.
What led you to a career in transportation design?
I think it was a fascination that turned into a love for mechanical things and the way they moved. I grew up in Los Angeles near the old Third Street Art Center campus and when I was in junior high, we would visit the classrooms there after school. I’d see the students drawing cars, and I think that exposure is what hooked me into pursuing transportation design.
What do you see as your most exciting career achievement?
Watching the progression of something go from an idea to a sketch to a clay model to a production car, and then coming out of a factory, where you can get in and drive it. Every time I see that, it is like the first time all over again. That’s how I felt being part of the team that built the Eclipse, both as a designer and as a manager.
What do you think has been the most significant development in the Transportation Design Field in recent years?
From a design process point of view, I think the most significant development is the implementation of digital design and visualization tools. It’s quite fascinating; it was something we couldn’t even imagine when we were students. Watching the whole progression take place in the past decade has been just astounding. And who knows where it’s going to end?
Where do you see transportation design going in the future?
The future of transportation design revolves around sustainability. The changes will come from packaging, power plants and power systems. These will evolve in addition to the body designs of cars, or whatever shape it is that transportation takes. I think there is a huge metamorphosis, maybe even a renaissance, around this awareness that small is cool again. Whether it’s a hybrid, an electric-powered car or a super gas-efficient engine, the future will bring many choices.
What kind of car do you drive?
Right now I’m driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse GTâ€”it’s fun to drive, has lots of power, handles great and is easy on gas. My real driving passion, however, is my 1971 Norton Commando cafe racer!