Insight: Karim Habib on Infiniti design

“We are trying to create a new design philosophy based on people and experience, and I was imaging the interior space around the movement of humans,” reveals executive design director Karim Habib on his vision for Infiniti. Read the full interview here.


Meet ASIMO the humanoid robot

The car industry is full of contradictions. On the one hand it creates machines that are harming our planet, yet some of the most innovative sustainability thinking takes place behind the the closed doors of some of these companies.

Last month we flew to Japan to visit Honda. Founded in 1948, this is Japan’s third carmaker and the world’s largest producer of motorcycles. It is also one of the leaders when it comes to ecological thinking as we discovered on the trip where amongst other innovations we met ASIMO the humanoid robot.

Watch the video of ASIMO running, the humanoid robot is now smarter and even more agile.

Read the full article Development news from Honda’s Japan HQ published in Wallpaper*.




 Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Tokyo Motor Show 2011 in picture

Japanese car design is an interesting mix of a thoroughly modern minimalist aesthetic and stylised animation. It really is different and exciting to witness some of the work created by local designers at the motor show that took place in Tokyo earlier this month.

Car design here sits at the polar side of German car design that is usually perfect and polished. In Japan it seems to be more of a refection of their inventiveness and playfulness.

Small urban commuters and pure sports cars – mostly with a focus on sustainability – were the main themes of this year’s show.

Read my full review published in Wallpaper*.


Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Japanese-Euro fusion: Honda design

Honda caused a stir back in 2006 when it first introduced the European Civic. It was a radical departure in terms of design with a futuristic exterior that was deemed more in keeping with European taste. The redesigned 2012 Civic is an altogether more self-assured car, introducing elements of its Japanese heritage especially in some of the exterior detailing.

The Civic, built at the firm’s Swindon factory in the UK, is pivotal to Honda – since 2006 as many as 650,000 have been sold worldwide and forecasts for the new model are at around 100,000 units next year. It is therefore vital that the ninth-generation Civic has the same popular appeal. We met with chief designer Daisuke Sawai and Tsuchiya Takeshi in charge of electric design to discuss the 2012 Civic design.

Design Talks. How do you approach redesigning an iconic and important car like the Civic?

Daisuke Sawai. The Civic is an icon car for Honda – you could say Honda is growing with the Civic – so it was very delicate to approach the redesign. The 2006 car was such a successful one in terms of design and at the beginning I felt huge pressure. We have tried to maintain the basic values of the Civic but adapt it to the new era, implement new values that are important to today.

DT. The previous Civic was revolutionary – very Japanese in its futuristic, almost sci-fi aesthetic. What was the thinking behind the design thinking?

Tsuchiya Takeshi. Each Civic has to have its own mission. For the 2006 Civic it was to bring back the advanced and sporty image of the car. We felt that we had concentrated too much on the emotional side at the expense of interior design and space. So for the 2006 Civic we wanted to have a very advanced and futuristic design to bring back the youthful identity of the car.

DT. The new exterior design feels a little safer, almost tamed. Why did you decide to take a more evolutionary approach this time?

DS. The previous model was meant to shock the customer. Times though have changed, environmental values are more important and people are becoming more rational. The design is an expression of these values. So it remains dynamic but suggests how clean this car is through its design.

DT. How do you feel this clean, lean identity has been expressed in the design of the car?

TT. We have tried to integrate this into the basic Civic shape of the previous model, as when we speak with customers they seem to value the exterior design the most. At the front we have now tried to make it cleaner to express this aspect of the car. This is also why we have enhanced the aerodynamic side of the car. At the rear the lights are highly aerodynamic. The 2006 already had a recognisable rear light/spoiler combination but now it is much more distinctive. We have kept the mono-form design but not integrated the grill front headlight combination like before. This time it is more about expressing the car’s wide and low sculpture.

DT. This is clearly a key product for you. How did the design process take shape?

DS. We started the research in 2007 a year after the launch of the last Civic. The design competition involved both European and Japanese designers who all worked on the project from Japan. We made four full-scale models representing four directions early on in the project. This one we chose was somewhere in the middle. We had even more aggressive approaches but also some quieter designs.

DT. From the images I’ve seen the winning design had a dramatic front light design that emulated the 2006 model. Why didn’t you introduced this aesthetic to the production car?

TT. From an engineering point of view it would have been possible but we wanted the car to be more in-line with the Honda family. The face you see now is our design DNA and it is a shape that we will keep for some time. We needed to create consistency in the design of our cars. We also didn’t want to build a car around the front lights but integrate the front lighting with the fender or bumper line to express the clean surfaces and the cleanness of the car.

DT. What aspects express Honda’s Japanese identity?

DS. The Japanese aspect is the harmony between man and machine. Off course design trends tend to become more exotic, especially for industrial products like an automobile, which has to respond to the environment, and we have therefore tried to bring man and machine closer together.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©



Learning from manga

The former BMW design director Chris Bangle once told me he believes at times form needs to follow fantasy. ‘For the future of car design, function is the last refuge of the unimaginative,’ he concluded. The Japanese are masters of fantasy – reflected through their imaginative, virtual worlds of animation and comics, anime and manga. Bangle may have said this to ruffle the stiff collars of the automotive world, but can car design learn from this, and is it right to assume that with clean car design, it makes good sense to reference such a futuristic, fantasy world?

Felipe Roo Clefas seems to thinks it does. The Belgium designer, who works in London at Nissan Design Europe, has an almost visceral connection to the clean graphics, the intricately designed machinery and robots, and the narrative that makes anime almost believable.

When asked to lead the project team for the Terranaut concept, Roo Clefas almost gave the car a science fiction narrative. ‘The story is most important in anime and with this I created believable fantasy,’ he says. The 3D user interface in the car references the anime Ghost in the Shell. ‘I see more of this 3D interaction happening in the next five to six years,’ he adds.

François Bancon believes the young have a different sense of reality. ‘They interface with the world through the computer,’ says the general manager at Nissan and Infiniti’s Advanced Design studio in Japan. ‘They are no longer interested in products but in experiences.’

Bancon works with an international team in the Yokohama studio penning the next-generation of Nissan and Infiniti cars. He believes anime and manga’s stylised graphics and fascination with the virtual world is having a major impact on how the emerging generation of car designers are approaching the profession.

One of his team members Eunsun Yoo admits that depending on the given project, anime and manga have philosophically influenced her work. She recalls the Nissan Mixim scheme where its interior was conceptually rooted in computer games, and visually connected to anime and manga. ‘It was more of a philosophical than a physical influence. It was about having no boundaries between the real and the virtual world,’ says the Korean designer, adding that her generation – she is 29 – who were raised on computer games and Second Life see no margins between the virtual and the real worlds.

The Mixim cabin is blatantly futuristic and also influenced by Ghost in the Shell. ‘The Mixim like Ghost isn’t a utopian future, but a little bit dark,’ she explains. ‘This was a car aimed at a young future generation and therefore I worked on the idea of how to blur the boundaries. The centre-positioned driver seat is F1 and computer game inspired, as is the steering wheel, and the control panels.’

redefining beauty

Many of the new generation of car designers, especially those coming from Asia, have a different concept of beauty that isn’t necessarily rooted in classical proportions. ‘To them beauty isn’t just about looking like a Jaguar E-Type, but a sense of proportion multiplied by features,’ observes Victor Nacif who heads the multi-national Nissan design team in Europe. He admits that the fashion is predominantly led by Asian themes and Japanese designers who tend to have a different notion of beauty.

Kimberly Wu says she has always been inspired by traditional and contemporary illustration of anime and manga. A transport design graduate of the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, she now works at Honda’s California advanced design studio where they conceive future, mainly green cars.

‘To me, anime is an idealised fantasy version of reality,’ she explains. ‘With body parts pulled, stretched and exaggerated, these characters hardly resemble real men and women. Yet, one cannot deny a certain appeal in the doll-like figures. In some respect, car design follows in the same formula: we pull lines, stretch form and exaggerate wheels – all for the sake of a sexier proportion.’

Her former tutor Bumsuk Lim says that many younger car designers are exploring ways in which to translate the extreme emotional expression found in anime and manga to a real-world product like the car. Electric cars open the possibility to add expression to the front-end. With only minimum openings required to cool the engine, affectively you are left with a large blank canvas to project a new face for the car. This, and sophisticated lighting technology, creates endless possibilities for designers to create new expressions.

Lim agrees the connection between the two makes particular sense as we enter the second phase of the automobile. ‘This virtual reality world ties in with what car designers are doing with the green movement, creating their own fantasy world,’ he explains. With the mechanical part – as in the engine – no longer the sole fascination, the next generation of the automobile can affectively be any shape it chooses to be.

One of his students James Chung recently created a city car with a cute face visibly inspired by anime. ‘It proves that an electric car can be any shape. The concept of the automobile as a machine will change to the concept of automobile as a device. And a device can have any look,’ he says. ‘I tell my students this is the best time to be a designer.”

But is this all limited to Asian carmakers? On the whole yes but there are designers like Luc Donckerwolke who have always loved manga. ‘I came to car design from the cartoon world,’ says the Seat design director who previously headed Lamborghini design where he was responsible for such cars as the 2002 Murciélago, the 2004 Gallardo and helped pen the Miura show car.

Donckerwolke notes that the car to him is like a manga caricature in that you have to capture the essence of the person’s face with just three simple lines. ‘With my cars too when I close my eyes I want to have a clear architecture of how the eyebrows are, how the muscles are.’ Donckerwolke even leads a double life as a cartoonist. ‘I am a virtual chief designer in the comic and the real world,’ he muses.

According to Bancon this language has no national barriers anymore. ‘It may have originated from Japan but it’s now a global vocabulary.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

I originally wrote an article on a similar theme ‘Manga Cars’ for Esquire which appeared in the November 2010 edition.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©