© ArtCenter College of Design/Juan Posada
“Create an iconic Nissan product for 2033, representing Nissan’s performance DNA.”
That was the challenge to nine Transportation Design students in a recent Nissan-sponsored project at ArtCenter College of Design. Over the 14-week project, the students worked with their professor and received regular feedback and mentorship from current Nissan designers, including Ken Lee, senior design director at Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., who initiated the sponsorship.
Lee is an alumnus of ArtCenter. In fact, the Pasadena, California-based school has turned out many graduates who ended up working for Nissan, whether at nearby San Diego-based Nissan Design America (NDA) or Nissan’s other global design studios. As a result, collaborations like this one between NDA and ArtCenter are longstanding. Giovanny Arroba, also Senior Design Director at NML, attended the school at the same time as Lee.
“The spectrum of ideas was really the most impressive aspect,” said David Woodhouse, vice president, Nissan Design America (right). “We always talk about the brand being ‘from kei car (the smallest category of cars in Japan) to GT-R’ and this was reflected in the work from the students.” © ArtCenter College of Design/Juan Posada
The student project culminated with an in-person presentation in April, where Lee reviewed each final design along with David Woodhouse, vice president, Nissan Design America. The review team also included NDA design managers Hiren Patel and Antonio Manzari, as well as designers Ryan Campbell and Tom Hu. Hu is also an ArtCenter graduate and previously participated in a Nissan-sponsored program such as this.
“What really resonated with me was how the students interpreted our brief about creating an iconic Nissan performance product,” said Lee. “I have my own definition of what ‘performance’ is, but it was quite impressive to see how some of the students interpreted it in a way that was completely opposite of what I thought, but still very relevant. It certainly brings us a new perspective.”
Ken Lee (left) studied at ArtCenter in the 1990s. He studied at the school at the same time as Giovanny Arroba (right), who is now Senior Design Director at Nissan. Photo courtesy Ken Lee.
Looking to the future
The design-challenge project, which began in February 2023, in a year that marks the company’s 90th anniversary. By asking the students to develop a product for 2033, the work delivered visions of what vehicles could look like in Nissan’s 100th year.
“Quite a few of the students are big fans of Nissan or JDM (Japanese domestic market) culture, so you can see some of the enthusiasm coming across,” said Marek Djordjevic, Transportation Design professor at ArtCenter College of Design. “I’m just so pleased with how much they learned this semester through their work and the engagement with professionals from Nissan. It was absolutely amazing.”
Chuyi Chen: Pal concept
With a purist, refined exterior, the Pal concept demonstrates its focus on driver excitement inside with a centrally mounted driver’s seat and two passenger seats closely positioned at either side of the cabin.
Cui Jie: GT-R concept
Inspired by Nissan’s iconic super sports car, yet imbued with the practicality of high ground clearance, this concept imagines a high-performance, four-seat SUV.
Darren Hur: Companion concept
Ready to go car camping? The Companion concept is flexible and modular, with provisions like a pop-out cutting board and induction stove to make off-grid camping simpler.
Michael Ge: Toki concept
This concept builds on Nissan performance DNA and traditional sports cars with increased ground clearance and interior room, plus forward-looking autonomous technology.
Ruben Teverow: Figaro concept
With inspiration drawn from the Nissan Figaro, one of the “pike cars” popular in the early 1990s, this concept images a cute, functional city car inspired by Japanese literature, design and kanji (Japanese writing script) characters.
Tan Yanxizao: Canyon Rider concept
Designed with younger, enthusiastic drivers in mind, the Canyon Rider concept’s imaginative design and center-seat cabin are meant to envision an entry-level sports car for 2033.
Stig Wang: Sword & Chrysanthemum concept
Extremely sharp lines, dramatic polygonal shapes and exterior lighting elements define this sporty, futuristic concept.
Robin Kim: Urban Vision concept
This radical two-seater, with open sides, focuses on delivering “an adventurous spirit” while ensuring occupant comfort for urban driving in the “concrete jungle.”
David He: On the Road concept
Aimed at outdoorsy, adventurous owners who might take the vehicle – and their canine companions – on camping trips to escape the city, this concept features design elements like a convertible roof, sliding side doors and even a slide-out gear storage drawer.
Augmented reality technology brought student concept designs to life. © ArtCenter College of Design/Eric Wang
Nissan’s sponsorship of the ArtCenter project was enhanced by the use of advanced technology to develop and share the concept designs. The students each created a model of their concept vehicle using various digital design tools and reviewed them using augmented reality (AR) software, allowing designers and ArtCenter professors to “walk” around and even through the cars while wearing headsets. The models of the cars seemed to appear, life-size, right in the middle of the room. It made the review process of each design even more compelling for Nissan’s designers.
David Woodhouse (center) and others use augmented reality technology and VR headsets, courtesy of project co-sponsor Gravity Sketch, to review concept cars. © ArtCenter College of Design/Juan Posada
“We interacted with one-to-one VR models,” said Woodhouse. “I mean, that’s just amazing.”
For Lee, the ability to use advanced technology was a clear advantage for this generation of student designers.
“It’s not that long ago we were doing full-sized tape drawings on the wall and using chalk and markers. And now with just the flip of the switch, we get a full-size [model] that we can all walk around together,” he said. “It’s all about speed these days. The quicker we can realize the concept, the quicker an idea comes out and gets on paper – and it’s not even paper anymore – now it becomes real so fast.”