“Luxury design is not enough any more.” Inside the mind of Lexus Chief Designer, Yasuo Kajino

Japanese car design visionary Yasuo Kajino talks us through his journey in creating the eagerly anticipated Lexus ES

Almost 30 years ago Lexus launched the ES: a sleek, executive saloon, made for those looking for a blend of luxury and comfort. Something that looked good but wasn’t going to slip a disc in your back going over a speed bump.

Now in its seventh generation, and coming to the UK for the first time, the new ES is longer, lower, wider – and, of course, faster. Then there’s the design…

A distinctive grille (that looks a little like Tom Selleck’s moustache, okay just us), shoulders that fall away beyond the rear window line and, in F Sport versions, a metallic trim inspired by Japanese swords. Lovely.

In his own words, the man behind the evolution of the ES, Yasuo Kajino, Lexus Chief Designer, takes us through the design process, the shifting luxury car market, and why humans are like eels…

“Luxury design is not enough any more.” Inside the mind of Lexus Chief Designer, Yasuo Kajino

It takes five years to design a car. It’s all about teamwork. Just deciding the style can take over a year, then it’s another three to four years to actually design that product.

I am a typical Japanese worker. No two days are ever the same. During the week, all I do is work. I do nothing else. I have no set time that I wake or sleep, it all revolves around work. But then on the weekend or holidays I try hard to forget work. I run away and hide from the people that are related to my work. It’s important to switch off.

The hardest part is doing something that’s never been done. When you design a car you obviously look at what else is happening in car design, and the history and tradition of Lexus. But going into a new genre: that is the hardest thing. This is what we’ve tried to do on the new ES.

To be a designer, you also need to be a salesman. The Lexus ES has a long history, and over time it became a very conservative car. The biggest challenge for me was trying to convince the people who had a very conservative mentality to accept this unorthodox design. Changing the perceptions of conservatively minded people is what I am most proud of.

Humans, like eels, thrive more when they have a big challenge to overcome

Humans are like eels. Let me tell you a story to explain why. Japanese people like to eat eels. You have to bring in the baby eels and culture them to become adult eels, so they can be eaten. When the eels are being transported, if you put an enemy creature, a predator, in the container with the baby eels, you will have more surviving baby eels than those not mixed with a predator.

The lesson of this is that humans, like eels, thrive more when they have a big challenge to overcome. The more you hit against a wall, and the more walls there are, the better results you get by overcoming them.

“Luxury design is not enough any more.” Inside the mind of Lexus Chief Designer, Yasuo Kajino
The Lexus ES and its distinctive grille

Luxury car design is in a unique position. This is a unique time. We are at this stage seeing various phenomena, and this is a once-in-a-century opportunity. We have things happening in new energy sources, connected driving and automated driving, all at once. It’s very exciting.

Luxury design is not enough any more. User experience is now very important. Just styling alone, or design, or the ‘luxury feeling’, is no longer enough to please customers.

All kinds of services will be introduced to driving in the near future. You already have automated driving. Ride-sharing is popular, and this will go to the upscale vehicle sector soon. You can’t achieve this with technology alone, it needs to answer a user need. What is it that people want, that they need? You must answer this first.

Biomimicry is a big inspiration for me. It’s about emulating nature. Gaudi, for instance, was a big follower. You see it in things like the honeycomb design. On this car, it influenced a lot. For instance, for the Mark Levinson speaker system there is a grille which mimics the vein of a leaf.

A car must have a mission to fulfil. My favourite ever car is the third generation Prius. With a car, of course styling is important, but it has to answer the demands of the era.

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