Ian Callum – Top advice that shaped my career
Advice comes in many different shapes and sizes from different sources throughout life. Some good, some great – I’m sharing the advice that transformed my career, it might transform yours too.
1. You Can Do Anything As Long As You Really Want It
It’s an old cliché but I think it’s absolutely true. The most precious piece of advice I’ve ever received is from my father, who said that I can do anything I want as long as I really want it and work hard enough. I was seven or eight years old when he told me this and it’s sat in my mind with such strength and absolution.
I remember drawing at the time and saying to him I wanted to be a car designer but that I didn’t know how to do it. He simply said, “we’ll find a way and work out what to do". There was nothing in my psyche after that point that held me back. I believed absolutely that I could achieve this.
At art school, I received some excellent advice on focus. If you’re going to draw something that you’re actually looking at and seeing, you need to focus. If you learn how to focus on things, you will get results. I’ve really played that out in so many things that I do, even to this day.
3. See Things Differently
The other piece of advice I received from art school was how to see everything differently.
When I look at anything, I see the spaces as much as the objects and when you’re designing a car you do the same. You start to see in forms, shapes and lines and realise that negative and positive forms are just as important as each other. The synergy between them is critical to what helps us get the right sense of composition when we’re creating something.
4. Learn To Speak Publicly and Properly
If you learn to speak publicly, you give yourself the most incredible set of tools for communication. Public speaking was not my strength and I would avoid it all costs. However when I arrived at Jaguar I decided to fix this. When you learn to speak to a large audience, it is important to focus on what you are saying rather than what you look like, or indeed who’s looking at you.
This all relates to how important it is to learn how to communicate appropriately. There was a time in my career when I would try to explain something using ethereal words like ‘instinctive’ and learnt this does not always work. Although this may seem irritating to a creative person, it is worth doing. I learned to communicate in a clear, concise way even about emotional matters – keep it simple.
5. Scrutinise your work as if it were someone else’s
I’ve learnt over the years that you must scrutinise your work as if it were somebody else’s. It’s something I really believe in, it helps us as a design team and we do this constantly. The moment you become so subjective you can’t get beyond your own input, you won’t come up with the right answer.
6. There’s a time in life when you stop taking advice and start dispensing it
As you go through life, the pendulum starts to move. You listen to everything people have to say but as your judgement becomes more experienced, the balance between listening and judgement changes. I still listen to everybody’s opinions, but I feel strong enough about my own judgement and that it may be better than a multitude of opinions. One thing to remember is that you’re always communicating to new audiences, who’ve all got something different to say and so you have something different to listen to.
7. And finally, some advice for young people on your journey into the car design industry.
First, absolutely focus on what you’re doing and listen and learn. Secondly, believe that whatever you’re doing, it can get better. What I’d say to any young budding designer is that no matter how great your piece of work might seem to you at the time, there will be a moment when you look back and think “that wasn’t so great". It will be better and you will get better and the moment you stop getting better, it’s probably best to go and find something else to do. Realising you’ll never know it all is a powerful piece of information to have.