8th December 2014 | By: jasonvincent
Inside Rolls Royce – Saatchi Gallery London
I recently visited the ‘Inside Rolls Royce’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London – and it was quite a different experience from what I was expecting. Before jumping in to the fascinating history behind Rolls Royce, and the exquisite craftsmanship that accompanies their work, let me first touch on the exhibition itself, and how it was uniquely curated (some images from the exhibition are included below).
I’ve become quite a cynic when hearing the words ‘interactive’ or ‘sensory’ exhibition. It seems to quite often be a marketing term used to lure tech-savvy people in to an otherwise fairly straightforward exhibition, with a poor attempted use of technology. The reality usually involves one or two elements that can be ‘interacted’ with in some primitive way, but provides very limited true engagement.
However, the ‘Inside Rolls Royce’ exhibition was quite possibly the first example I’ve come across of a truly interactive exhibition – and one that delivered on its promise.
If you think about the psychology behind most computer games, it’s quite simple – game designers and storytellers need to provide an incentive for a user to accomplish certain tasks in order to keep them progressing through the game, and coming back for more. This is exactly what the curators of this exhibition managed to achieve, in a way that I hadn’t come across before.
Through the use of Bluetooth hotspots and a mobile app that was very well designed and put together, visitors are ‘guided’ through the many galleries by discovering new content as they go. Each time they come into contact with a particular element in the exhibition, the app detects where they are, and provides additional background information, related resources etc. It becomes more of an exploratory journey than a mere viewing experience. Adding to this discovery process, I noticed that you couldn’t actually access any content unless you had first visited that part of the exhibition!
After navigating the ground floor galleries in a somewhat ad-hoc order, you are invited to the 1st floor galleries which are laid out in a more open space. At this point you’ve covered the basics – you’ve seen the attention to detail that goes in to their paint and leather work; The unique woodworking that delivers what many would easily identify as masterpieces, particularly in the context of an automobile. But upon entering the upper galleries you’re confronted with something quite unique: actual Rolls Royce employees, carrying out their craft right in front of you.
The attention to detail is mesmerising. From the fibre optics that light up the inner ceiling (I guess I’d never actually wondered how these were made before) to the woodwork and the leather embroidery. And then there are the accompanying quotes that really make you question what you do and how you do it – a great example being:
Strive for perfection in everything you do – Sir Henry Royce
Coincidentally I had recently been reading ‘My Life and Work – Henry Ford’ (it will be Aeguana’s book of the month for November, so stay tuned for a more detailed review). Ford is a fascinating company, also incorporated around the same time as Sir Henry Royce decided to change motor vehicles for the better, but their stories are almost polar opposites.
Henry Ford was a firm believer in pricing-first as a way of directing the company, and all its processes, to be super-efficient – the only way to hit the target price and keep the companies books in the black. Their design revolved around re-usable components, streamlining processes through automation and making cars accessible to everyone.
Rolls Royce on the other hand wanted to build ‘the best cars in the world’. Their Silver Ghost, launched shortly after the company was officially formed in 1906 was quickly hailed as the best car in the world, living up to the founders’ ambition. Interestingly, up until 1922 their product development policy for motor cars had one major resemblance with that of Ford – they both strived for a one-model policy.
It’s fascinating that throughout the companies life, despite running in to several severe setbacks (even resulting in the nationalisation of the company in 1971), their overarching vision doesn’t seem to have ever wavered.
Overall, the attention to detail on display at the exhibition is perhaps what struck me the most. As an entrepreneur and manager, it raised several questions within me – How did they not stray from their vision even when faced with such adversity?
Perhaps back in the early 1900’s the ambition of creating the world’s greatest cars made sense – it was a nascent industry, ripe for improvement and perfection. However, it’s clear that over time, as automation started to kick in, and companies like Ford were producing hundreds of thousands of cars (and then millions), it amazes me that their board, their directors, even their shareholders, didn’t succeed in shifting the direction of the company away from one-off masterpieces to production for the masses. To retain the throne as the pinnacle of luxury vehicles, and essentially carve out their own sweet spot between luxury and performance, is amazing to say the least.
One thing is for sure – I’ll never see a Rolls Royce the same way after attending this exhibition. Let’s hope some things never change!