Recently, I was included on a panel from Lexus automobiles. Along with Susan Huckvale Aran and Nitzan Tagansky, I was invited to be a designer in the hot seat.
The Lexus group comprised ten people from different divisions of the company from the U.S., Japan, and China. The U.S. Product Planning and Managements teams were there along with the Chief Engineer and Chief Designer.
They wanted to understand how an American high-end designer in New York works with clients, what they are looking for, how it’s presented, what materials they gravitate toward, what image they are trying to achieve. Lexus intends to apply that kind of data to designing a new top-of-the-line saloon car that will compete with Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, etc.
There is an interesting intersection of design whether it’s architecture, interior design, or industrial design and auto design. Each starts with a program or need, the designer informs the function with form, and then design is checked by the reality of getting produced or manufactured. Budgets are a key factor.
We residential designers have a close, personal relationship with the client, and Lexus has focus groups to reach out to their potential customers. I asked them who buys the cars, husband or wife? The answer is both, depending on the vehicle. They are marketing different cars for different people. For example, they designed a small SUV that women love. Typically, interior designers deal mainly with the wife (or one spouse) and the other is happy to have their home finished and comfortable.
Exterior car elements we discussed included the importance of colors, the beautiful grille, the logo, the lines of fenders, shape of the lights, windows, etc. Interior elements are pretty much the same as those in a residential interior— leathers, trim, wood, metals, colors, and textures. Car drivers and home owners are all seeking luxurious materials. Your home and your car are reflections of your taste and status.
Part of the conversation was how we dialogue with our clients: what we show them, what words we use, how we represent our ideas and concepts. Do we use the term “luxurious” or other keywords with them. Simplicity, tailored, rich, etc., are all keywords.
We also discussed why the concept cars at the shows get watered down in the final product: Not practical, too hard to build, too expensive, no appeal to all the masses. Many of these are the same problems we face trying to get froward thinking products to market or to get a client to approve.
We all felt that it was interesting and useful to understand and illustrate the craftsmanship that goes into a luxury item. They showed us a beautiful video demonstrating the way the steering wheel is created. It is linked here.
At the end of our dialogue, the Chief Designer told me that he envied me: “You are lucky because you get to know you client, his or her needs and desires. You can educate them and try different ideas. I sit in the studio and design in a vacuum; I only get to deal with the realities of manufacturing.” It made me appreciate the process I’m privileged to have with my clients. (Although, I wouldn’t mind just getting to run free once in a while.)