Auto People: Career developed inside out.
Hyundai Genesis designer started with interior concepts for auto supply company.
It’s every car buff’s childhood dream: to draw cars and make a living at it.
That was John Krsteski’s dream, and one he’s now living as design manager for Hyundai North America. Working at Hyundai’s studio in Irvine, Calif., he was the driving force for the all-new 2015 Genesis.
“I grew up in Detroit,” he says. “Anyone who comes from Detroit tends to be automotive-centric. Growing up in the Motor City, I was around cars, my family worked in cars, and it was a natural progression for me to want to be involved somehow.”
Krsteski always liked to draw, but expected he would get into architecture until a friend planted the idea of automotive design. He ended up going to Michigan’s College for Creative Studies to earn his degree.
While most people play on their strengths to start their careers, Krsteski took the unusual step of focusing on his weakness.
“Coming out of school, I wasn’t too good at interiors,” he says. “At that time, students weren’t being trained for interiors, because the expectation was that you’d be an exterior designer. I had an opportunity with (supplier) Johnson Controls to do interiors. I thought it was fantastic. I could go there and learn more about the inside of the car.”
He worked his way through the company, eventually becoming a design manager. Some of the automakers had design studios on the west coast, and Johnson Controls opened one in California to be closer to these clients. Krsteski went there, where he worked on advanced interior concepts.
“It was a three-year assignment and they wanted me to move back, but I felt like I’d settled into California,” he says.
When he was offered a position at Hyundai’s studio, he joined as a design manager, where he started with interiors and then transitioned to exterior design.
He worked on concept vehicles, including the Nuvis, Curb and then the HCD-14, where he discovered that, with a strong design, people either love it or hate it.
His role as a design manager varies, depending on what needs to be done.
“There are times when you’ll roll up your sleeves and start sketching with the designers,” he says.
“We’re always open to ideas from the entire team at any level. On the Genesis, my designer penned the original sketch, and he and I designed the car from that. My role was helping get his idea off paper and into a viable car.”
It’s a long process, and Krsteski’s team spends weeks on sketches, coming up with as many as possible before narrowing down the possibilities. The designs are turned into small-scale clay models, and then into full-size ones.
First used in the 1920s, clay models are still popular with designers because they provide an actual-size, 3D rendition that computers can’t duplicate, and the pliable material can be reworked over and over until each detail is exactly right.
“You have to see it physically. It’s an organic process that evolves in front of you. You can walk around it, study it, and tune every line. Being able to step back 100 feet, and then walk up inches away, is critical for perfecting it.”
In addition to design, Krsteski is also an artist — race cars and bikes are a favourite subject — and, on Saturdays, he teaches visual communication at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
He’s still fascinated by both sides of automotive design: the concepts, which aren’t bound by the more mundane requirements of mass production, and the models that eventually end up in the showroom.
“Show cars are so much fun, because there’s so much freedom around what you can do, and it’s an emotional expression,” he says.
“I do enjoy the advanced side of it. But nothing is more rewarding than seeing a car you worked on drive by you on the road. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold in front of you, and that’s fantastic.”
- John Krsteski, design manager for Hyundai North America - photo courtesy Hyundai - for Wheels