Every year, the EyesOn Design Awards are presented to the finest concept and production vehicles which debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It’s a prestigious award, and highly prized – but what’s the process behind the decisions? Well, now we know, as our long-time contributor Bill Barranco was asked to be a docent (an expert show guide) for this year’s event. He explains how it all works.

The judging process, as managed by Chief Docent Jerry Piaskowski, is focused on recognising excellence in design content, and the beauty or relevance of each design, rather than on engineering or marketing or other aspects of the vehicles presented at the show. Not surprisingly, this subjective analysis is remarkably similar, in many ways, to the design review process and design decision hierarchies that occur in many automotive design studios.

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The coveted EyesOn Design award itself

This year, the awards were coordinated by four Chief Judges – Dave Marek (Honda/Acura), Stewart Reed (Art Center College of Design), Joel Piaskowski (Ford) and Paul Synder (Center for Creative Studies). Master of ceremonies was Victor Nacif (ex-Nissan).

Other judges included automotive design leaders, managers and various distinguished members of the global automotive design community, who gather for this event that benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology (the DIO). The DIO provides programs that support those who are blind, or visually impaired, and provides funding for advanced research into new technologies and services for the blind.

Each Chief Judge acts as a sort of design director, who leads his team of judges, supported by docents, who function as a sort of detail coordinator for each judge. Over a period of about two hours, the Chief leads his teams of judges through a pre-determined path over the whole exhibition floor while he and his teams revolve around each vehicle, examining proportions, stance, design intent of both the exterior and interior, and closely examining details such as surfacing, component integration, color, materials and graphics.

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One of the five judging teams – Chief Judge Dave Marek is second from right, our man Bill second left

All judges and docents freely express their impressions to each other, comparing observations and commenting on all the aspects that designers are sensitive to, and responsible for, in the vehicle design process. This on-the-fly interaction tends to lead to spirited, inspirational and often uncensored opinions being expressed (all very much off-the-record of course). Some of the judges’ comments can be brutally, critically, honest. Some comments are very thoughtful and considered. And many comments and observations include glowing admiration for the creators’ achievements. All these are the secret ingredients of each of the judges’ final choices.

There are occasional disagreements between judges. And then the judges agree to disagree. Also, occasionally, there can be unanimous agreement when judging a vehicle, when all decide it’s ‘not worth consideration’.

After two hours of very focused attention to proportions, details, concepts and hardware, the Chief Judges, Judges and Docents return to the EyesOn Design conference room where each Judge makes his/her final choices and submits them to the Chiefs, who in turn, tabulate the results and determine the winners.

So after all that the 2019 winners of the EyesOn Design Awards were as follows, with sincere congratulations on the following design teams’ significant achievements (and, as it’s for a very good cause, a little thanks to the sponsors):

Best Concept Vehicle: accepted by Karim Habib and his team at Nissan Motor Company for the Infiniti QX Inspiration (sponsored by Dassault Systèmes).

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Karim Habib (back right) and his Infiniti team

Best Production Vehicle: accepted by Sonia Svenson, on behalf of her late husband Chris, Ford Motor Company, for the Mustang Shelby GT500 (sponsored by Covestro).

This year’s award ceremony also included a very special tribute to, and recognition of, Chris Svensson, who passed in 2018 at the age of 53. Chris served his whole career at Ford, both in internationally and the US, and was a significant contributor and Global Design Director on the Ford GT program and the most recent Mustang GT500, along with a multitude of previous achievements at Ford over a period of 26 years.  

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Craig Metroz of Ford with Sonia Svensson and the winning Mustang

Best Interior Design: accepted by Karim Habib and his team at Nissan Motor Company for the Infiniti QX Inspiration (sponsored by ABC Technologies).

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Best Exterior Lighting: accepted by Tadao Mori for the Lexus LC Convertible Concept (sponsored by Varroc Lighting Systems).

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Lexus’ Tadao Mori (right) accepts his award

Innovative use of Color, Graphics or Materials: accepted by Karim Habib and his team at Nissan Motor Company, for the Infiniti QX Inspiration (sponsored by Axalta).

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And finally, the Lifetime Achievement Award this year was given to Leonardo Fioravanti for his long and glorious career at Pininfarina, Ferrari and Fiat, as well as his own studio.

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