Doyle Letson, Ford Mustang chief designer, chuckles when he recalls the moment his colleagues found out he played in a band.
“I really enjoy seeing the surprise on the faces of those who have worked with me for years when they find out what I do outside of work,” said Letson.
Playing alongside Leon Carpenter, Ford design immersion specialist and five others, Letson is lead vocalist and self-dubbed “crowd control” for the Metro Detroit-area band Vinyl Rockit. Rather than specializing in one genre of music, Letson said Vinyl Rockit focuses on any music that gets people up on the dance floor. It’s a formula they’ve been perfecting for nearly three years.
The band is building a large following throughout Metro Detroit. The key to Vinyl Rockit’s success is the strong chemistry between band members and production crew.
“I can look at the guy next to me and know what’s going to happen,” said Letson. “We have a feel for each other’s moves and actions.”
This is where Letson can see the relationship between music and vehicle design – in the teamwork that’s involved to make something great. Creativity and collaboration are two major parallels between music and design, he believes – both of which are key when tasked with the design of iconic entries in Ford’s winning portfolio such as Mustang and the all-new Mach-E.
“Designers are a rare breed since they use emotion to influence their design, similar to musicians,” said Letson. “Just like making music, there needs to be a strong connection between designers and their vision to creatively express themselves.”
Letson compares market research within design to how his group tests music to find out what songs excite the crowd. As the Mustang Mach-E interior design chief, his team utilized human-centered design strategy to find out what features mean the most to the customer. It’s all about delivering a product that creates memorable moments in time.
On top of his daytime gig as chief designer for Mustang, Doyle Letson (center) is lead vocalist and self-dubbed “crowd control” for the Metro Detroit-area band Vinyl Rockit.
Letson started his first band when he was a 19-year-old student at Purdue University. The band recorded original music and even had some songs played on local radio. But Letson had to make a decision to continue with music or pursue a career in design. He chose the latter.
Letson got married and moved to Florida to design boats for several celebrities and for TV shows such as “Miami Vice.” He also started a family, and that led to a 20-year hiatus from music.
Fast-forward to 2009. Letson had dinner plans with a friend but this friend canceled due to a band rehearsal. This got Letson to thinking – what’s stopping him from returning to music? He found three bands in the area holding auditions for a lead vocalist. After auditioning for each, he received offers from all of them.
Letson spent seven years with a classic rock band and a couple more with a blues group. The band played shows around the Detroit area for more than a year but found it difficult to find venues since blues is such a niche genre. That’s when Letson redirected the group, focusing on playing whatever people enjoyed dancing to. Vinyl Rockit was born.
Walking through the halls of Ford’s product development center, Letson points out flyers fellow bandmate Carpenter has posted for their next gig. Letson doesn’t see his musical journey ending anytime soon, as he is looking to add higher-profile gigs and music festivals to the schedule.
“The music outlet will always be there in some form, some way,” he said.