In the world of automotive design, getting a designer like Mays to talk about upcoming projects is a little like asking Colin Powell for the scoop on national defense. Instead, American Way asked for some insight into his design team's creative process and into his belief that emotion, not logic, drives American consumers. So sit back and enjoy the drive - and along the way you might pick up some ways to turbo-charge your own team.

AW: You are known in the automobile world as an innovator. How do you keep your edge?
Mays:
In this business, nothing is black and white. It is a mixture of left- and right-brain thinking, and there is a certain amount of analysis that's necessary to get the job done, but in the end what we're really dealing with in terms of communicating with the customer is all right-brain, emotional issues. Keeping that in mind, and understanding that although we've got to fulfill some of the things that analysis says we have to fulfill in terms of meeting certain customer wants and needs, it's [the customers'] aspirations on the other side of their brains that are truly making them purchase the vehicle.

AW: How do you approach a new project? How do you keep your design teams thinking outside the box?
Mays:
I'm pretty pragmatic about design. I always think that regardless of age group, income, or economy, everyone aspires to a better life, so they're always looking for products that can fulfill those aspirations. The products may be slightly different, but everyone essentially wants what they can't have. People have these pent-up aspirations, and those aspirations are probably formed by the time they're 15 years old. In the case of the EX [Ford's new concept dune buggy car], there is a group of people whom I call rock-rats - people who love off-road dune buggies and anything to do with adventure. Really, we're not trying to wow them with crazy shapes or things they haven't seen before. When we set out to design something, we're literally trying to fulfill an empty space inside their cultural makeup, and say to the consumer, "Here's what you've been dreaming about, and we've created it in three dimensions."