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Exclusive interview: McLaren’s Jo Lewis and Donna Falconer

We took a trip to Goodwood to try out McLaren’s recently launched 720S, and then sat down to talk to two women working for the brand; Jo Lewis, head of colour and materials design, and Donna Falconer, head of product strategy

Ginger Rose Clark
Ginger Rose Clark,

Jo Lewis
Jo Lewis has been working in the automotive industry for the past seven years. She is head of colour and materials design at McLaren.

How did you end up working in the car industry?
I was always interested in design, specifically textiles. I studied at Central Saint Martins, where I specialised in textile design, then went on to the Royal College of Art, where I got into innovative materials, innovation and textiles and the next big thing. After I had been working for a research company for about five years, someone suggested I go for a colour materials role at Jaguar Land Rover, because it was creative and quite technical. I decided to give it a go.

What do you most enjoy about your job?
My job is extremely varied, which is what I love. Each day is completely different to the next. I spec every colour and material inside and outside of the McLaren vehicles; canopies, wheels, paints, carbon fibres, leathers, textiles, carpets and aluminium components. Every single piece that you touch and feel has a story around colour and material design. When you get to see your work going into production, that’s exciting.

What’s your favourite aspect of the 720S?
From a colour and materials point of view, some of the materials we developed for the 720S are quite varied. The car can be created to individual requirements based on the trim or the colours you choose. It’s a next step in materials for McLaren I would say.

What item should every driver own?
A really good bag for your car, that goes in the right place. A great key clasp or fob that goes with your car colour and trim is also pretty cool.

What’s your idea of a perfect drive?
I think the weather is important. I love the countryside, windy roads and a few pubs on the way. I’m not necessarily a fast, racy driver, I enjoy a leisurely drive: I own a very old Porsche, a 1982 Targa, and I like to drive him down lanes, stop off at a pub, show him off.

What is your vision for the future?
Being such a young automotive company, we have a real chance to establish a DNA for our colour and materials. That’s specifically what I do. Colours and materials are a massive part of establishing what our cars represent. Looking ahead to the future, I’d like to really push some interesting advanced materials, especially on the Super Series, and give them a real identity.

Donna Falconer
Donna Falconer holds the position of senior manager of global product strategy at McLaren.

Did you always know you wanted to work in the automotive industry?
Not at all. When we were children, my younger brother was a complete car nut – he knew all the names, all the brands, bought all the magazines; it was 100% his thing. I was very much into design – I loved the idea of bringing together functionality and aesthetics. I did an engineering degree with a design focus and a holistic approach to understanding people, solving problems, creating and then delivering concepts. Following that, an opportunity came up with Ford. It  meant I could move to London; it was good pay and I knew I’d have fantastic training there so I decided to see what would happen.

What does your job entail?
You’ve got to understand your customer, the technical possibilities, what the competition is doing, what’s going on in the market. You need to be aware of the external factors and trends that are being played out, in order to know what to respond to and what’s going to change in the future. You also need to know what the brand values are as a company and what McLaren stands for. If you boil all that down, you need to come up with product concepts that meet the needs of the customer, will be relevant in the market, support the brand values and make money.

What’s your favourite aspect of the 720S?
It’s almost like a Jekyll and Hyde. It’s unbelievably powerful and a beautifully engineered car. So, on the one hand you can take it out on track; on the other you can take it out to the supermarket. That combination of being able to drive it anywhere, while it being raring to go is what makes it so amazing.

What item should every driver own?
A good pair of driving shoes. I do drive in heels, but I wouldn’t recommend it on track.

Where is your favourite place to go for a drive?
The Alps or somewhere like Scotland. The weather can be temperamental in Scotland, but when you get a beautiful day with the open roads and sweeping views, it’s just fantastic.

What is your vision for the future?
As time goes on there are going to be big shifts in the automotive landscape, from electrification and autonomy down to what are our roads might look like in 20 to 30 years’ time. We need to think about how McLaren will exist in that environment. With our Formula 1 heritage, a lot of our engineers come from a background of challenging convention and finding new ways to solve old problems; whatever happens in the future, it goes back to offering exhilarating experiences and being able to provide that it in any form.



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