Work From Home? No, Work To Home: How Ford’s Color and Materials Designers are Taking Delivery of Their Work Via Priority Mail

The sound of birds chirping and the glimmer of sunrays peeking through his blinds wake up Allen Brown one early spring morning. Brown, Ford color and materials mastering manager, jumps into his slippers and heads to the front door. It’s not the morning paper he’s looking for, but a bundle of small packages. Scooping up a handful that stack up to his chin, he closes the door and swiftly moves to the kitchen table, ready to open each one.

No – it’s not an early Christmas for Brown. It’s far from Christmas, as billions of people around the globe are hunkered down in their homes due to this worldwide coronavirus pandemic. That doesn’t stop the excitement of opening presents for Brown, as he shreds open the first package and pulls out a supplier-developed color sample. One by one, Brown spreads color and materials samples across his kitchen table – everything from carpets, vinyl, plastics and leathers.

In a time of mass uncertainty and social distancing, Ford designers are finding creative ways to continue work without their studio tools and equipment. The design group is used to reviewing clay models, handling in-studio color correction lights, and having instant access to their teams on the studio floor. Now, those routines are no longer normal.

Jack LeBlanc - color and materials mastering designer

Brown’s team is using hand-held color correction lights at home to review color and materials samples. More than 35 suppliers have sent samples for validation for future vehicle programs.

The usual order of business is for suppliers to visit Ford’s product development center and review their samples alongside Ford designers in the color and materials lightroom, where real-time decisions are made. Ford then provides suppliers direction as to how to adjust a sample. For example, after testing a blue exterior paint sample, the team may find that it has too dark of a value under daylight conditions, so the supplier takes that feedback and adjusts the color to address Ford’s request.

The heavy-duty lighting equipment from Ford’s studio isn’t currently available, so Brown’s team is substituting for that with these hand-held color correction lights. The lights have three different temperature-adjusted settings – daylight, which is a warm light, dealership, a cool light, and horizon, a sunrise and sunset light – used to test samples under various conditions.

Athena Anger, who works on Brown’s team as a color and materials mastering designer, has been testing fabrics for vehicle seating and headliners from her apartment in Detroit. The process involves comparing the fabrics to a master plastic material to create harmony in the vehicle. On days with strong sunlight, Anger has held material samples out the window of her downtown apartment to conduct testing. She is staying on track, receiving sample packages in waves from suppliers, who send her about three to four a day. Anger enjoys working from home during this unique situation.

“I like having a computer at my disposal from home since we usually only work from our desktop computers in the studio,” she said. “When an idea comes to my head now at home, I can log it on my computer rather than write it down or have to wait until the next morning at work.”

Other color and materials designers are strapping on jeweler lenses in order to take a closer look at grain samples. This includes textures to be used on vehicle doors, instrument panels and other interior components. Brown is impressed by his team’s effort and the creativity they have shown in moving vehicle programs along.

“We’ve adapted,” said Brown. “This new way of working has allowed us to continue our jobs, and suppliers are very appreciative that we’re resuming work with them.”

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