Gordon "Gordo" Platto grew up in the Detroit suburb of Rochester, Michigan, earned a business degree from Western Michigan University, then changed direction.

"I was always interested in art," he says. "I'd come home from school and say that was what I wanted to do. But by the time I convinced my parents, I was too far into the business degree. After I completed it, they said, 'If you have enough ambition to go to art school, go for it.'" Four years later, in 1990, he graduated from Detroit's Center for Creative Studies (CCS) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Gordo's CCS work must have been good -- he had nine employment offers. He had been an intern at Ford the year before and loved the family atmosphere, plus the opportunity to travel and work on cars, so that's where he went.

TT: Were you always a car guy?

GP: Yes. I had a lot of cars growing up, including a 1968 Firebird and a 1979 Z28 Camaro. I redid my first car, a 1969 Olds Cutlass, before I had a driver's license.

What was your first assignment?

Mustang exterior. But I was hired as an interior guy and spent a lot of time on interiors as well. I'm currently the only chief designer at Ford with experience in both.

What is your design philosophy?

Understanding and designing for your customer is the way to get winning products. That's why our trucks are so right for the marketplace -- because we know our customers.

That's easier said than done.

We are futurists. That's part of what we do, through market research and by spending a lot of time with customers. During a program, we'll have several research events to really get into their minds and understand their needs and lifestyles and how they use their products. We'll spend a day with customers at their homes, and we also talk to owners of competitors' trucks to learn what appeals to them and why they prefer one brand over another. In the past, they were all about work; now it's work and lifestyle, a dual-purpose thing. That's why crew cabs are so popular. They can get their work done during the day, then haul their families around at night.

What is the mission of the Atlas design?

First, it had to fit our Ford brand tough imagery. We created a bandwidth of images that went from bullet train aerodynamic to a real industrial look, to understand what imagery along that continuum was most important for the Ford brand. We understand that a beautiful truck doesn't have to be a jelly bean. You can get tough, blockier, more filled-out shapes and still have a beautiful, aerodynamic vehicle.

What unique appearance features are on the Atlas concept?

The more extreme drop-down -- where the glass drops down in the front door -- the signature nostril grille with horizontal bars, the chamfered nose in side view at the front edge of the hood. As we evolve a new model, we like to get "tougher" than the previous model. We always want to increase capability, so we need a look that matches that function. That's our Ford brand DNA. We wanted this truck to look like it was milled out of a block of steel.

Does the Atlas preview the next F-150?

It sets up our DNA for futuring the F-Series trucks, the imagery we'll be looking at when we style the new ones. I would look for elements like that in the next-generation vehicle.