Miles Nurnberger started at Aston Martin in January 2008, quickly penning the exterior of the dramatic ONE-77 hypercar and later on leading the creation of the DB11 and Vantage as head of Aston Martin’s exterior design. But when Marek Reichman became Chief Creative Officer in 2014, Nurnberger found himself in charge of the day-to-day running of both interior and exterior design plus other outside projects, too, and was appointed to the Director of Design role in 2018.

At a time when the brand is massively expanding its range and reach, from supercars to SUVs and skyscrapers to flying cars, it’s a lot of plates to spin, but Nurnberger seems to enjoy the process, even if it means he gets to draw less than he used to. “As you grow in the industry you realise that we don’t sell sketches, we sell cars,” he says. “And the experience I’ve gained over 20-odd years is super-important to make sure you’re helping designers to resolve cars and understand why one form factor is ‘more Aston Martin’ than another.”

It’s a mix of skills that is very familiar to him, coming from a family steeped in design connections: his German grandparents used to dine with Walter Gropius, the founder of the world-famous Bauhaus design movement; his father worked in advertising; his mother was a photo re-toucher; both his sisters have art degrees. “I sort of grew up in an advertising office with my father, who was also a professional photographer. There were all these graphic designers, so that multi-disciplined world has been my world since birth,” he recalls. “I love sketching — my mum said as a child all I would do is draw — but I also love all the aspects of brand design just as much. You’re using your experience in a different, but still creative way.”

The Aston Martin Valhalla, which is currently under development

The Aston Martin Valhalla, which is currently under development

Just as well, because the new DBX SUV, the upcoming mid-engined family of Aston Martins and the launch of Lagonda all now fall under his watchful eye. The forthcoming DBX is finished from a fundamental design point of view, but Nurnberger is still involved, as he confirms: “We’re in that moment of launch so ensuring quality takes time out from the team, to make sure the DBX is absolutely the car we want it to be.” Beyond the DBX, the next big design project is Aston’s “mid-engined” story. “It’s about defining them and making our mid-engined cars unique,” he says. “How are we going to package them and tell that story because we’ve already announced we don’t just plan on doing the Valkyrie? So there’s a lot of stuff around the roles of the cars we want to roll out and how they will sit alongside our core, which is still GT.”

As to what approach Aston Martin might take, Nurnberger is wonderfully concise: “It’s about getting the purity and drama,” he states without hesitation. “If you look at Aston Martin DB11 or Aston Martin Vantage, they are dramatic. They do it with this notion of ‘quiet power’. We’re not Lamborghini, which shouts and does it brilliantly. Our quiet power, which comes partly from being a British brand, is something we will get into our mid-engined cars. The very top of our tree, where Valkyrie sits, is slightly different because it’s a very avant-garde form of beauty, not classical beauty. But as we develop, we are increasingly into this world of quiet power.”   

The Vanquish Vision Concept takes shape

The Vanquish Vision Concept takes shape

Could that notion and strategy be useful — literally and metaphorically — for forthcoming electric Aston Martins too? “I hadn’t thought about it in that way,” he muses. “In the past three years alone there’s been a huge maturity in electric cars, but with many twists in that story to come. Will it absolutely dominate the landscape, or will we see more of a split between EVs and internal combustion-engined cars? I think we’ll be surprised along the way, but I don’t think the petrol engine is over.”

That said, design and engineering development on the all-electric luxury brand Lagonda continues apace, in advance of its launch in the early 2020s. Two concept cars have already been shown to indicate possible directions for the latter brand — the 2018 Lagonda Vision Concept and the 2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept — and both, according to Nurnberger, are evolving nicely. “It’s a big challenge for a company of our size, but a wonderful challenge,” he explains. “There has been great progress from what we revealed in the show cars to where we are now. It’s intriguing for me because in my time in car design and for many years before, we didn’t realise the stability we had in terms of technology, package layout and performance. Now we’re on this journey and it’s fascinating to see the industry still disrupting itself through battery technology. You might start with something and six months later, you find another battery that is 30% more efficient. These are big step changes you no longer see with petrol-engined cars.”

That said, design and engineering development on the all-electric luxury brand Lagonda continues apace, in advance of its launch in the early 2020s. Two concept cars have already been shown to indicate possible directions for the latter brand — the 2018 Lagonda Vision Concept and the 2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept — and both, according to Nurnberger, are evolving nicely. “It’s a big challenge for a company of our size, but a wonderful challenge,” he explains. “There has been great progress from what we revealed in the show cars to where we are now. It’s intriguing for me because in my time in car design and for many years before, we didn’t realise the stability we had in terms of technology, package layout and performance. Now we’re on this journey and it’s fascinating to see the industry still disrupting itself through battery technology. You might start with something and six months later, you find another battery that is 30% more efficient. These are big step changes you no longer see with petrol-engined cars.”

Our quiet power, which comes partly from being a British brand, is something we will get into our mid-engined cars

Beyond Aston Martin and Lagonda cars, Nurnberger is tasked with overseeing the brand’s burgeoning non-automotive design work too, which in the past few years alone has encompassed architecture in Miami, furniture in Milan, flying car concepts with Rolls-Royce and submersibles with Triton Submarines. This part of the business has been going about 12 years, but was born from customer “push” rather than Aston Martin “pull” and is creating more than just revenue. “These projects started out being called ‘Can you just…’,” Nurnberger says. “A customer would come in and say: ‘Can you just... design me a house, a hot air balloon’, all these different things. And over the years, it became obvious there was a business in it. That’s attractive because there’s not just a financial contribution to the company, but a cultural one too. What do I mean by cultural? Working in other luxury segments, we learn and distil lots of influence that would be second-hand otherwise. So when we’re working on apartments, defining how Aston Martin is incorporated into a bedroom or living space, it also helps us define the next level of luxury in our cars. Solving problems on an alternative subject matter gives fresh perspectives.”

It’s more than just marketing, too, with Nurnberger stressing that any collaboration with Aston Martin should be an authentic one, with experts
from the outside embedded within Aston Martin’s in-house team as far as possible. “The difference between us and others doing this sort of thing is that our designers — interior, exterior and colour and materials — work on those projects. The guy who did the Vantage also worked on the flying car concept and some of its themes came from the Aston Martin Valkyrie.”

Aston Martin Valkyrie joins the Valhalla at Silverstone

Aston Martin Valkyrie joins the Valhalla at Silverstone

Nurnberger’s affinity to such projects can’t have been hindered by the person who used to head up that division being his partner Leighanne Earley. They met at Coventry University and have lived and worked together around the world ever since — globetrotting from Paris to California and back again, for Citroën, Ford and Lincoln, before both settling at Aston Martin. Cathal Loughnane, Design Manager of the Global Imaging Group division, is also an old friend, which suggests strong bonds within a design team of more than 80 people. It’s a far cry from when Nurnberger started his career at Aston Martin a decade ago, when there were only 17 people in the department.

While he may no longer be sketching quite so hard, Nurnberger, alongside Marek Reichman and the rest of the team, is without doubt creating some of the most consistently high-quality designs in the brand’s illustrious history. He’s super-busy, but it would appear that he’s in a good place, despite the extra responsibility, as he concludes: “I don’t sketch as much, but my time to give input on the models and reviews has improved in the past 12 months, so that’s nice. Do I sit in too many meetings? Every designer will tell you they do, but overall I’ve managed to strike a better balance.”   

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