“I think we are about half-way through the process of adding emotion to our designs”, muses Kiyotaka Ise, president of Lexus International. We’re talking candidly in a quiet all-white anteroom at the Lexus Design Award event in the heart of Milan during the city’s world-famous Design Week, so the topic’s hot and relevant.
Indeed, Ise is one of the prestigious line-up of judges for the Lexus Design Award so it’s clearly something he needs to be able to talk about with clarity, and although he’s quick to qualify that his background is in engineering rather than design, he knows his aesthetic and functional design opinions really count.
Finishing his Master’s degree in Precision Engineering from Kyoto University back in 1980 and joining Toyota Motor Corporation in the same year, he rose through the ranks via various roles including chief engineer in 2002 – involved in the third-generation Toyota RAV4 among others – to general manager of the Lexus Development Center in 2007. He believes those hands-on jobs gave him considerable insight into what needs to be done now. “I had a chance to study the importance of design through that process,” he says. “Engineering has to understand what designers want to create.”
In interview, 58-year old Ise comes across as a considered and mild-mannered man. He’s soberly dressed but wears a big, multi-coloured Citizen chronograph watch that suggests a lighter side too. While in Italy he made an effort to take time out from business to see some of the country’s amazing cultural heritage too. “Today I saw ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci”, he enthuses. “I was amazed at his skill and considering it was a two-dimensional artwork I was surprised at how much it moved me. And da Vinci was an engineer too!”
Ise is equally excited by what’s in store for Lexus design and is helping make it advance more quickly through a few initiatives, from more investment, to new ways of working, as he concludes: “Previously we had two separate teams of engineers and designers but now we’re grouping them together, so in the near future we think you will see the fruits of this collaboration in our new products. With its introduction of the spindle grille, the GS was the first step forward, but I have a lot of ideas in my mind as to where we will be in five years’ time.”
Lexus is holding the Design Matters event in New York to showcase its renewed focus on design – read more about it here.
To watch live footage event, watch the link below. (live footage starts on Saturday 20th at 01:00AM)