He bought a Russian sports car when he was fourteen

If a dry sense of humour is an asset for a designer, then Tomas Jankauskas has certainly got what it takes. Shrewd designer Jankauskas’s futuristic luggage transportation truck concept won him a prize in the 2014 Toyota Logistic Design Competition. It also led to an internship and subsequently to a job at the Toyota design studio in Mjölby, Sweden. The day after I meet him he’s off to Japan to pursue his dream.

When I ask him about his way into design he hesitantly admits that he wasn’t that bad at drawing at school. And only seconds later: “I won a couple of [drawing] competitions when I was ten, twelve…” And, he says, “like a rather typical teenager, I got involved in street art, graffiti.” Painting the streets of his native Vilnius, Lithuania kept him busy between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.

American grandfather

Tomas Jankauskas’s all-consuming passion was – and is – cars. “Bought my first one when I was fourteen,” he says. “It was a Russian car, a Zaporozhets, a mid-engine sports car. Pretty cool.” But surely he wasn’t allowed to drive a car at the tender age of fourteen? He says he used to drive it outside the town he lived in. “My mum found out when I was sixteen, and she pushed me to get a licence.” He winks mischievously.

“It was always my dream to design the next sports car for Toyota.”

Jankauskas grew up in Lithuania, but he also had family in the United States. On a trip to Los Angeles to see his grandfather he was taken to the famous West Coast Customs – a luxury automotive restyling company that played a major role in the MTV Pimp My Ride television show. Meeting an ex-Chrysler car designer at the custom shop was a revelation for fifteen-year-old Tomas Jankauskas – he realised that there actually was such a thing as a car designer. “So I promised myself to become one,” he says solemnly. And now he’s off to Japan.

Toyota DC02 counterbalance forklift concept shown at CeMAT Hannover fair 2016.

First things first

He has great admiration for the Toyota brand. “For its high level of innovation and wins in motorsport,” says Jankauskas. “It was always my dream to design the next sports car for Toyota.” One step closer to the hallowed ground of Japan and Toyota was to enter the Toyota Logistic Design Competition in 2014, he figured. And it paid off doubly: first he won second prize for his avant-garde airport transportation solution, and second he was offered an internship at the design studio at Toyota’s truck plant in Mjölby, Sweden. “It wasn’t cars but I decided it was close enough, and… this is my ticket to Japan, you know.” Smiles.

It’s all about the execution

We digress for a moment into the subject of cooking, where a lot of people feel the dishes they create are miles from their culinary dreams. He nods in agreement and says that when he cooks he “can’t follow the book”. I want to know if this is true also for design. “Absolutely,” he says. “At first you get an image in your head, and then you struggle to put it down on paper.” And it all takes a lot of time, he says. “And then you’re still a long way away from the end product.”

Designer’s sketch.
Designer’s sketch.

What’s Jankauskas’s strength as a designer? Is it the concept or the execution? “I think concept is cool ’cos you’re free…” He ponders the question for a moment, and then puzzlingly says that he doesn’t think there are any bad ideas. How so? “It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution,” he says. If you gave ten tailors the same brief, eight of them would come up with the same idea, Jankauskas opines. “People tend to think alike… We’re the same species, so… In the end it’s all down to the execution,” he argues. (His reasoning rings of the famous quote attributed to German-American architect Mies van der Rohe: ‘God is in the details’.)

Show them we’re on our toes

A while back Tomas Jankauskas was asked to come up with a completely new design for Toyota’s counterbalance trucks. A prestigious assignment for an industrial designer. Jankauskas did the job during his internship, and people at Toyota felt it was so good they decided to show it at the Hannover CeMAT 2016 fair. So Toyota shares its ideas with the competition? They’re shared, he says, and adds with that furtive smile, “We just want to show the competition we’re on our toes. That Toyota is a forward-thinking company.”

A final question: where does he think ideas come from? “Oh, I think they come to you subconsciously.”

Tomas Jankauskas

2014 Second prize in Toyota Logistic Design Competition
with Toyota NPS, an airport ground support vehicle concept.

2014 In autumn employed as trainee at Design Center.

2014-2015 Designer of Toyota DC02, a counterbalance forklift concept.
Design model in 1:5 scale shown at CeMAT Hannover fair.

2015 Employed as transportation designer at Design Center.

See more of Tomas’s design work on his personal blog.