The first McLaren Design Night, held at McLaren Ascot, highlighted how our designers are at the heart of the creation of each new McLaren with unprecidented insight from the team.


It’s not the advanced wind tunnel, where we fine-tune the aerodynamic performance of our sports cars and supercars, or the locked build hall, where our experimental prototypes are first assembled, but rather the McLaren Design Studio that is the most secretive part of the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), our state-of-the-art headquarters in Surrey, England. Here, a small and dedicated team, led by Design Director Frank Stephenson and Chief Designer Rob Melville, create the next generation of McLaren road cars, years before the public ever see them.

However, a special event, the first ever McLaren Design Night, recently gave both McLaren owners and prospective customers a glimpse into the inner workings of the McLaren Design Studio. Held at McLaren Ascot, the largest dedicated McLaren retailer in the UK, located only a short distance from the MTC, the McLaren design team spent the evening showcasing their skills (and secrets) to the gathered crowd. 



We’ve put this event together to give you a unique insight into what we get up to in the Design Studio, and how we operate, from the first sketch right through to the final signed-off and finished vehicle,’ explained Design Operations Manager Mark Roberts as he welcomed guests to McLaren Ascot. ‘Of course, technology is a key aspect of what we do, but the most important part of our work is the human element, from the very beginning of the process right through until the end. Tonight you’ll see our designers creating pencil sketches with the ideas literally coming straight out of their heads, and you’ll witness the artisan skills of our clay modellers – it’s a chance to appreciate how much talent and passion goes into the design of every McLaren.’

With whole elements of the McLaren Design Studio relocated to McLaren Ascot for one night only, guests were able to witness how the design process evolves, from the initial pencil drawings sketched by the designers through to the creation of the vehicles in three dimensions (both in the digital world and in clay) and the input from the colour and trim department, which curates the use of specific paints and materials to reflect the character of each McLaren model.



With a crowd surrounding him and his fellow designers, and guests queueing excitedly for a signed sketch, Esteban Palazzo revealed his team’s critical role: ‘As each new project starts, the engineering team has to achieve certain numbers and figures, and that’s not something visual. So it’s our job to turn that performance into something that can be seen, meaning when you see the car at traffic lights you know it’s fast, it’s aerodynamic, it’s agile – you instantly understand what the vehicle can do. We’re inspired by nature because the animal kingdom has been optimised over millennia, and together with the personal experience and vision of each designer, every individual sketch is so full of love and energy and passion.’

Around 2000 individual sketches will be created during the design process for a new vehicle, like the McLaren Sports Series. ‘Initially we’re creating different themes, taking ideas in different directions, interpreting the brief, working through engineering and aerodynamic solutions,’ explained Senior Designer Paul Howse. ‘We might need a certain size of rear wing to meet the downforce requirements, or to create that sense of space within the cabin we’ll look at new ideas, like disassociating the dashboard from the central tunnel, as we’ve done with the Sports Series. These ideas will then be taken by both the Computer Aided Surfacing (CAS) team and the clay modellers, and they’ll start to turn our 2D drawings into three-dimensional models, so we can see light and shade and get a real feel for the volumes and proportions.’

‘It’s a cyclical process, and as the forms take shape, we’ll then go back into sketching to refine them, then back to clay and computer modelling, all the time adding engineering input and requirements – it’s a constant process of improvement, a “total design” philosophy. The initial creative process takes around two months, we’ll develop three specific designs for a further two months, and then take another year to refine one of those designs for production, both inside and out. The final 20 percent of the design takes around 80 percent of the time, because we’ll literally make changes to the tenth of a millimetre as we really refine the surfaces and work on the detail.’



At this special ‘through the keyhole’ event, guests were able to take control of McLaren’s CAS technology, to see how just the tiniest change to one of the superformed aluminum panels of the Sports Series can affect the way the light reflects off it. Some also took the opportunity to get their hands dirty by working with a 1:3 scale clay model of the 570S Coupé.

It takes around five to six weeks to create a 33 percent model, and to then perfect the full-size version that is signed off for production is an 18-month process,’ revealed modeller Daniel Wright, as he watched guests carve and shape (and hack and gouge) the clay 570S Coupé with his array of surgical tools. ‘It’s a privilege to create the first 3D model of a new McLaren, and it’s great for our customers here tonight to try their hand at it, to see the skill, delicacy and concentration needed.’

Around 170 owners and prospective customers attended this unique event, where they were joined by McLaren personnel including CEO Mike Flewitt, Global Sales and Marketing Director Jolyon Nash, Programme Development Director Mark Vinnels, MSO’s Head of Commercial Operations James Banks, and Head of Sports Series Andy Palmer.

As the evening came to a close and guests departed, Chief Designer Rob Melville reflected on the first ever McLaren Design Night: ‘Every McLaren is designed to be beautiful yet functional. We aim to visualise that philosophy and show the way air flows around each vehicle – and tonight has been about telling the story behind that approach. Designing a car is very personal, we’re all intensely passionate, and have a real affinity with the McLarens we create. They are our pride and joy, our babies, and it’s been a privilege to share that with our guests tonight.’


Left: Guests used the 570S AR App to explore the Sports Series model in the palm of their hands. Right: Mark Roberts addresses the crowd at McLaren Ascot







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