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A Night of Design: EyesOn Design and Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment celebrate automotive design talent in Detroit

By Melissa Anders

Page 34

Automotive design takes center stage during the first Tuesday of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show this year.

First, the EyesOn Design Awards will recognize design excellence among concept and production vehicles making their worldwide debut at the auto show. Later that evening, budding designers will join seasoned professionals at the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment, a so-called fight club of design and underground industry party.

EyesOn Design is the auto show’s officially sanctioned awards program for design excellence. Seven awards honor the best concept car, production car, concept truck, production truck, innovative use of color, graphics of materials, interior design and the designer catalyst award. Current or retired heads of design serve as judges, representing an assembly of the pinnacle of automotive design, said EyesOn Design Chair Kathy Lightbody.

“These are people who love great design,” she said. “There’s an energy in the room when you get this many people who are at the top of their game in this industry.”

The number of contestants varies by year, but can reach around 40 depending on how many vehicles make their debut at the show. The event is funded by sponsors. EyesOn Design also hosts an annual auto design exhibition at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

kathy lightbody pull quoteWhile EyesOn Design honors industry leaders for their achievements, the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment gives students and amateurs a chance to compete for recognition alongside professionals.

Brook Banham created the event as a way to celebrate the 2012 launch of his new design firm, Middlecott Design, which he owns with his wife, Judith. That first party was well-received and has since evolved into an increasingly popular automotive design event. While not officially part of the NAIAS, it’s held during the show in order to attract those who come to town from other parts of the country and around the world, said Frank Schwartz, an automotive consultant who organizes the sketchbattle with Banham.

a night of design steven brownThe contest is open to the public, though the pool is narrowed down to 12 participants who compete to sketch the best automotive designs in front of a live audience during three 30- to 45-minute rounds. They must perform under pressure and work through distractions from emcee and performance artist Satori Circus. Most of the participants are design students eager to rub shoulders with professional designers, Banham said.

“It’s really about these students being exposed to designers who can hire them later on down the road, and talk in an informal way,” Banham said.

There’s also a cash prize, which is expected to reach four figures thanks to sponsor contributions. Past events have brought more than 500 spectators, and Banham expects the Tangent Gallery to reach capacity with 750 people this year. Schwartz and Banham said they chose the industrialist venue as a way of showcasing Detroit’s grittier underground side, as opposed to the more traditional auto show experience. It’s also a way for the general public to get involved in the excitement surrounding automotive design during the auto show.

Spectators are asked to provide a donation supporting Project Beautiful – Inside and Out, an Auburn Hills-based nonprofit that works to “build confidence and inspire hope” among those in need, particularly women in shelters.

Middlecott also hosts a sketchbattle in the fall during the Detroit Design Festival. Organizers hope to expand the events throughout the country and around the world with a championship event in Detroit.

Melissa Anders is a Chicago freelance writer.