[alert type=”info”]The 7th subject of our new series on craftsmanship is about how Ken Okuyama’s design dreams first began at the 1970 Osaka car expo, when he saw an Italian concept car called the “modulo”. The designer had been inspired by Apollo 11, which had launched just a few years before. His passion shone through and influenced the young Okuyama, who would later graduate from the Californian Art Center College of Design in 1986.[/alert]
This is my second article on Japanese craftsmen. I wrote about Jiro Ono, a few days back.
Ken Okuyama’s first foray into professional car production was as Chief Designer for the Honda NSX. Ken extensively researched the F-16 fighter jet and incorporated elements of it into the NSX. It’s low height, aerodynamic body lines, and forward cockpit brought rave reviews from car enthusiasts, but it was more than just a pretty face. It also incorporated the latest technologies from Honda’s F1 motor-sports program such as all-aluminum construction and electric power steering. Even today, the NSX is considered one of the most reliable exotic cars ever built.
Thanks to this success, Ken became a rising star in the auto industry. He worked for General Motors and designed the Camaro and the C5 Corvette, both popular models even today. He helped Porsche design the new Porsche 911/996 as well as the Porsche Boxster, which has received numerous international awards.
But the culmination of his automotive career has to be his entry into Pininfarina, one of the most prestigious car design firms in the world. While there, Ken Okuyama oversaw the development of supercars from the biggest luxury brands in the world, such as Ferrari and Maserati.
Since then, Okuyama has struck out on his own and set up his own design firm, Newton Design lab. There he’s expanded his repertoire to include robots, furniture, eyewear, bullet trains, and yes, even a car of his own.
Perhaps Ken Okuyama’s greatest strength is his ability to be aesthetically functional. Nearly every single one of his designs is able to seamlessly integrate technology and features, making his products a joy to use as well as to look at.
Consider the use of cockpit space in his first project, the NSX, and how the wide, 360-degree view increased driver visibility and safety. His design studio’s home robotics product, the Nuvo, is a technical marvel with the ability to walk, tumble, and get back on its feet unaided, and can understand 50 different spoken commands.
Designing More than Machine
All of the above is because Ken Okuyama believes in “experience design”, not hardware design. In his philosophy, Ken puts the user first and considers what they would actually experience when using his product, what they would like to experience, and how he could design to give them that experience. This is the same whether Ken’s ideal user is a driver or a home owner.
Ken also takes the long view when designing concepts. He believes that products have to be built with the proper infrastructure in place (or at least planned for), and not the other way around. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s no use designing a concept car that runs on exchangeable electric batteries, for example, if the city infrastructure for producing, distributing, and collecting exchangeable batteries has not yet been designed either (Ken’s studio has already generated concepts for both).
He is not limiting himself to designing vehicles or products. Ken and his studio are designing everything from the ground up, even delving into urban planning, just to make sure that he has the entire picture of how his product will fit into the lives of his customers.
Ken Okuyama is designing the future.