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We explore how design shapes the interaction between driver and car, and how the Nissan Ariya imagines the future of intelligent mobility.

30 Jul 2020

The launch of the brand new Nissan Ariya marks a key moment for the brand. It's the first production model to represent Nissan's new electrified brand identity, one where electrification, optimised platform packaging and seamless vehicle AI technology will become standard.

We spoke to Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice President for Global Design for Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., to learn more about the design process behind the Ariya, and also about how design fundamentally shapes the relationship between people and vehicles. 

Designed to function, design as function

The Ariya's sleek roof line is designed in a way to maximise the vehicle's aerodynamic efficiency
Of course, there are certain formal functional parameters in designing any car. SUVs are immensely popular right now, owing to the flexibility of use that they deliver. A SUV is typically boxy in nature, but the Ariya uses flowing lines and smooth surfaces to maximise the car's aerodynamic efficiency, important for an electric car. "We were able to create this super sleek roofline with the help of the engineers, and the very thick body that creates a powerful feeling, and create this blend of a coupe-ish SUV," says Mr. Albaisa.

At the same time, the Ariya's new EV platform, with a flat floor and fewer large mechanical components, also gave the designers additional freedom to reimagine the interior of the car. Instead of having to design around limitations such as the position of the transmission tunnel and driveshaft, the designers in fact are working with a blank canvas of sorts - almost like an interior designer approaching an empty room.

The new futuristic Nissan logo marks the start of a new digital era
But, design also serves its own function, namely, to define the interaction between people and the car. The value of design ranges from small details, such as the new design of the Nissan logo, to larger commodities, such as the design of the cabin interfaces. As Mr. Albaisa highlights, "The existing logo felt a little bit heavy, and it's very metal-feeling, whereas the Ariya is very digital and futuristic, so there's a disconnect there. The changing of the logo also marks the start of a digital era with the Ariya."

Inside the Ariya, we can see a minimalist dashboard that blends seamlessly with the shape of the cabin. There is a purposely departure from traditional vehicles, such as the removal of traditional buttons and switches in favour of capacitive haptic switches.

Multi-functional, multi-dimensional 

Capacitive haptic switches allow occupants to interact with the otherwise purposefully minimalist interior
With cars becoming increasingly intelligent, connected and with additional autonomous functions, the fundamental role of a car is also changing. Cars are now tasked to serve a multitude of functions, beyond just getting you from place to place. It needs to serve as an entertainment lounge, as a mobile office, as a personal assistant, or as a valet.

And, cars these days also exist in multiple dimensions that may transcend tarmac roads. With increased connectivity, whether from car to car, car to smartphone or even car to home, our ability to interact and negotiate with the vehicle can transform the way we can use cars.

Unsurprisingly, the role of a designer has also changed. As Mr. Albaisa tells us, the fundamental makeup of his team has changed. "10 years ago I didn't have any filmmakers, now I have 30 or 40 constantly making animations of information," he tells us.

Creating videos that visualise the way customers interact with the vehicle have become increasingly important
Now, these filmmakers are charged with creating videos and interactive content to help customers envision their specific interactions with the car. "They are literally making short films of things like how cars change lanes, when the meter goes from analog to enhanced, or the feeling of moving apps on the display," he adds.

These days, it's not just a matter of sketching with pen on paper - the nature of design has evolved, too. "We spend significantly more amount of time designing things that are nothing to do with shape, but having to do with connectivity technologies, and figuring out how to make a complex world simple," says Mr. Albaisa. 

Intelligent, sensitive design  

Intelligent yet sensitive design allows a complex machine like the Nissan Ariya to be welcoming and personable to its occupants
With increasing digitisation, complexity and automation, the future of mobility might seem foreign and intimidating. The value of good design is its ability to make such complex systems accessible. With the Nissan Ariya, the seamless design inspired by Timeless Japanese Futurism gives all occupants a welcome and personal impression.

And, it is this sensitivity of design that will shape the future of our relationship with our vehicles. The car as a machine will continue to improve in its mechanical and technological capabilities in ways that can fundamentally improve our lives.

But, as vehicles transform in form and function, it's important to remember that design is, and always will be, a deeply human process.

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