Photos by Tesla
May 14, 2019
The Tesla Design Studio remains a public mystery. Working from an airplane hangar surrounded by the sprawling SpaceX campus in Hawthorne, California, the Tesla Design Studio team of international designers, engineers and modelers helped Elon Musk’s sustainable energy company upend the entire automotive industry in just over a decade. Every single product — from its fully electric fleet to charging accessories and apparel, plus solar and battery hardware — starts here.
Tesla's Chief of Design, Franz von Holzhausen, is the first to say no single team is responsible for the company’s improbable success or its aggressive innovation. Pawel Pietryka, Creative Manager of UI Design, is far more precise: this place is like nowhere else. We talked to Pietryka about his team and how working outside your discipline has been the greatest reward in a staid industry.
Pawel PietrykaCreative Manager/Product Designer
Who are you? How would you describe your job at Tesla?
Hi, I’m Pawel. I’m a product designer and lead our vehicle and mobile UI team at Tesla. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to work with the most talented people in my industry, as well as the best car designers, vehicle and software engineers, ergonomics, visualization, clay and digital modelers and prototypers out there.
What inspired you to join Tesla?
While I learned a lot during my 3+ years at Apple, it was time to move on. The only other company that I was excited to work for was Tesla, honestly. I care deeply about our sustainability mission and our aggressive focus on innovation, and what we’re doing here is completely unprecedented. I’ve worked on many digital experiences, but none as exciting as an entire car.
What do you tell your family and friends about Tesla?
I tell them to drop their dinosaur cars, to stop living in the past, to join the revolution. I try to explain that driving a car (or being driven by it) can actually be fun again. It’s something we see ourselves at the end of every quarter with customers around the world. You can watch as many videos as you want, but the experience doesn’t lie. It’s not just electric, either. Driving a Tesla is honestly the most fun thing you can do – and we get to design that experience every single day.
Could you tell us about an outstanding project/product you worked on in the past few months?
So many. My first big project was to match the look and feel of Model S/X to the vernacular and interactions of Model 3. To me, it’s very exciting that we build a platform – our own OS, so to speak – and have frequent over-the-air updates. We also work on a ton of Autopilot features and I’m very excited about shipping 3D-rendered cars in real time. We also worked on the Model Y UI and other announced products.
What’s one thing you do to nurture your own creativity? How does Tesla help you with that?
Franz, my boss and the head of design, always says that we each have our homework, but if we want to branch out and collaborate with other teams it’s very encouraged. Most of my projects are self-initiated, actually. We also like to dabble in creative technologies and come up with some crazy ideas. It’s always exciting to create something new that doesn’t exist.
What do you like the best about working for Tesla?
I love being with all these talented and passionate makers. Plus, Franz is totally accessible, which can be rare in other companies. I value the camaraderie most of all. We care for each other as much as the products we design, and I don’t mean that in a corny way. You really feel something special when you’re here, everyone says that. I also like the pace, along with our intense focus on innovation. We also have this incredible ability to shift focus and realign priorities in an instant. We’re lean by design and a byproduct of that is vastly more responsibility for everyone.
How does a day in the office look like for you?
Every single day is different. It could start with a lot of meetings or start with a lot of deadlines. Unpredictable, and no two days are the same, which is pretty amazing. It’s challenging at times, for sure, but also very rewarding.
What do you love about the design scene in Los Angeles and what companies are on your dream list to collaborate with?
I was living in San Francisco previously and I don’t want to hate on it because it’s a great city but also a very small city. LA is massive and includes a much bigger focus on art, design and community. It has so much more to offer apart from the assumed superficiality of Hollywood.
As far as collaborators, maybe a lidar vendor? Kidding. Apple and Google seem like a natural fit. Companies focused on AR/VR headsets like MagicLeap, Valve and HTC seem like great future opportunities. Also, I think companies innovating in the material space like Adidas and Nike could be interesting, too. Parley, Modern Meadow, Smile Plastics are doing interesting and important work.
How does the recruitment process at Tesla look like?
We get a good amount of applications online, but honestly, our bar is high. Our recruiters do a great job at finding the right candidates. It’s important that they’re able to adopt our design process which is much faster than other tech and automotive companies. The more versatile, independent and self- motivating, the better your chances. Our teams are very small and that requires everyone to be ultra-collaborative, non-competitive and just plain smart.
What are the biggest mistakes you see people make when applying for a job at Tesla?
Everyone knows good design needs to be functional, simple, intuitive. But more than anything it needs to deliver a great user experience. That means sometimes an experience needs to be fun, sometimes unconventional, and sometimes that means beautiful typography or other unexpected characteristics. I see a lot of good product and UI designers focus too much on the former. What’s the point of good, clean design if customers are not engaged or bored by it?
What gets you excited about a great candidate?
It’s important to be detail-oriented and truly care about the craft, just as much as being humble and friendly. A great candidate might go beyond the traditional disciplines of UI design and bring a great passion for prototyping, coding, 3D, animation or typography. I also look for someone who doesn’t accept the status quo of UI and wants to push it to a new paradigm or interaction, but doesn’t let their ego get in the way.
Open positions at Tesla:
Thank you very much, Pawel! 🏁