The all-new NX marks the start of a new design direction for Lexus. In this interview, we speak to Lexus NX designer Tsuneo Kanasugi, lead exterior designer for NX, as he gives an insight into the creative process and what Lexus sought to achieve in the look of its mid-size luxury SUV both inside and out.
We have been told about “significant change” in Lexus design with the Next Chapter, while keeping the core Lexus design philosophy. Can you give some examples of how this is demonstrated in the new NX – what are the main differences between the new NX and the previous model?
“At first glance, there is an evident design relationship between the new NX and the original model, but its impact and appeal have been heightened with more pronounced contrasts – sharp hardness and warm elegance that give the car even wider visual appeal. You can see this, for example, in the different surface expressions in the top and lower sections of the side doors.
“We have kept the avant-garde feel and provocative image of the original NX but the design has been refined to make it both more glamorous and more mature. The key direction was to give the NX originality rooted in its proportions, creating the sense of a solid piece of metal with a seductive form. We also wanted simplicity that reflects the car’s new technologies – a simple design that expresses the appeal of innovative functions.”
“Functional Beauty” is an exciting concept, linking design to the need to include new technologies in the car. How challenging is it to combine good design with good technologies?
“There’s an expression we use in Japan to describe a difficult task – ‘it’s hard enough to pass a thread through the eye of a needle.’ New technologies need to be attractive in design terms, or else there is a risk they won’t be liked or used by customers. As designers we have to create designs that are attractive and easy to use, achieving the required functionality within limited dimensions. It might be as difficult as threading a needle, but if we can get it right, we can make the product more desirable. This is a concept that Lexus wants to pursue in the future.”
What were your priorities when it came to designing the new-look grille, as part of a new “face” for the NX?
“We have evolved the spindle grille in line with the new Lexus design language so that the concept for the body design is actually derived from the grille. It merges with the body, giving the impression of the car having a single, solid form. We have also arranged the surface of the grille vertically. Not only is this good for cooling the engine, but it also accentuates the long and sleek bonnet, perfectly expressing the car’s functional beauty”
What kind of design impact did you want the NX to have when people see it on the road?
“Lexus has always sought to bring more ‘colours’ to its customers’ lifestyles. Where the new NX is concerned, we hope that its exterior design will give them a sense of the driving pleasure it will deliver when they take the wheel. We have greatly evolved the NX’s proportions and its dynamic feel in a design that combines glamour and sharpness. I am convinced that the design we have produced has met the goals we set ourselves at the outset.”
How did you want the driver and passengers to feel when they are inside the new NX?
“For the driver, we designed a cockpit that provides excellent visibility, so they can concentrate on the road ahead. For the passenger, the seat is comfortable and relaxing, and the easy-to-use cabin design means that you can make yourself at home, wherever you sit in the car.
“In the new NX’s cockpit we have applied Lexus’ Tazuna concept – it means ‘using the reins’ – to give the driver more intuitive connection with the car, so they can control it just as they want. It’s inspired by the communication between a human rider and horse, using only the reins. You can see the Tazuna principles in the functional relationship between the (touch-tracer) switches on the steering wheel and head-up display and the grouping of the information sources (the HUD and the multi-information and multimedia displays). This design concentrates on the driver’s forward view, so there’s less eye movement needed to operate the controls or take in information, which is faithful to our guiding theme of ‘hands on the wheel, eyes on the road’.”
The Tazuna interior concept creates a very special environment. Was this one of the most challenging parts of the design to create?
“The Tazuna cockpit actually worked very well within the overall ‘tangible space’ concept we adopted for the interior design. This is about making the ‘empty space’ in the cabin a tangible element in the design. Each area – the driver’s cockpit and the front passenger space – is optimised. With Tazuna, this focuses the driver’s attention on the business of driving, while the passenger can relax in comfort. You can see the effect of this in design details such as the placing of switches for driving-related functions on the driver’s side and comfort and entertainment controls on the passenger side.”
Which elements of the new Lexus NX design are you most proud of?
“It’s the fusion of sharpness and alluring form in the design. It’s a new approach for Lexus and it was very difficult to express these two conflicting ‘tastes’ in a well-balanced mixture. I believe the NX’s surface expression, which combines sharp edges with expansive, curved surfaces, gives you the sense of high-precision quality co-existing with a warm yet gorgeous feel.
“We moved away from the conventional approach to using a different design process to create a surface with highlights and reflections. As a result, the NX projects a different expression in different environments. I am proud of how the design team has succeeded in creating a design that captures and enhances the NX’s agile and dynamic driving quality.”
On a personal note, how did you become a car designer and what qualities do you think are necessary to make a designer good at their job.
“Originally, I studied mechanical engineering, aiming for a career as an engineer. At the same time, the importance of design was beginning to be highlighted in engineering university courses. I felt that a next-generation engineer would need to have a creative mindset, combined with an engineer’s precision.
“I think the most important qualities for a designer are to be able to gain an overview of all the challenges presented by a project and to inspire others to work together as a team with creative tools. Of course, the minimum requirements for a designer remain, such as drawing and visualising skills.
“Firstly, to create something, you have to think about the initial issues that need to be solved. It may start with inspiration, but you need to be able to see things from different perspectives to finish a product without having to compromise. Secondly, to build a car, you need the help of many talented people. I think it’s essential for a designer to have the ability to collaborate with others and inspire them to work in the same direction, using creative visualising tools.”