Kei Kyu was appointed executive design director of Datsun in April 2016. In this role, Kyu says his objective is to create a certain team spirit in a group of individuals with a proactive mindset who like challenges, who are good at analysis and who can offer a wide variety of thoughts and considerations.
You graduated from the College of Art and Design at Musashino Art University’s Department of Industrial Design and joined Nissan in 1991. What made you become a car designer?
My passion for design began in childhood. When I was a kid, everyone in Japan was mad about supercars – Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini. People would buy photos of cars just to keep and look at, and I was one of them!
The Countach LP400 was deeply imprinted on my memory. Marcello Gandini’s design stunned me. The car was amazing; it was so elegant and had such presence. I was also very impressed by the Nissan Silvia (S13) and Fairlady Z (Z32), and I’m sure those experiences determined how I finally made the decision to become a car designer.
And I’m still working in this industry today (smiles). Although I’m no longer designing – I’m now much more of a director or producer – my role is to stimulate people to have the good idea.
Where does your inspiration come from when you’re creating a car or guiding your team?
Finding “unexpected expectation.” When I create something, my primary objective is to understand the customers. I need to feel who our customers are, what’s the mood and the atmosphere of a country, how people are behaving – what are the new trends and fashions, through experience. This is the starting point of design – discovering what people expect. I strongly believe that design is a gift for the customers; it’s not a commodity.
Each Datsun market has its own uniqueness and clear differences. It’s an interesting observation for me. India is huge, busy and colorful, with an incredible vibrant energy, with so many languages and tastes. In Indonesia, I saw a massive boom in customization and personalization. It’s a really interesting phenomenon. Customers want to have more fun with their car ownership and enjoy it more. The market mood is different, but the passion and expectation for cars is the same.
During your long career, you’ve overseen the design of both Nissan and INFINITI models. What did you learn there that you’ve taken to Datsun?
Most of my time as a car designer, I’ve spent working at INFINITI, which has been a very meaningful experience. It taught me how to realize the idea and how to execute with the highest level of design quality. Datsun plays in a completely different price segment from INFINITI. But for me, it’s important to keep the focused mindset on design quality, such as the quality of surfaces and lines. Cars are very aspirational products.
The car is a symbol of achieved success, an embodiment of a dream – and therefore, it needs a stronger presence. The design of the car should be “louder,” should stand out from the crowd. This is the direction I’d like to follow when creating the 21st century’s second generation of Datsun cars.
The key words to describe Datsun design today are “confident” and “vigorous,” and we’d like to keep them as the baseline. Being confident, essential and pure are key fundamental values for Datsun design, but we’d also like to inject dynamism, freshness, astonishing solutions and a powerful, energetic mindset into the core values of the car.
You mentioned that you’re more of a producer, rather than a designer, and you stimulate others to have good ideas. Can you tell us what your team is like?
My objective was to create a certain team spirit in a group of individuals with a proactive mindset who like challenges, who are good at analysis and who can offer a wide variety of thoughts and considerations.
The team working for Datsun is great, very strong. I appreciate the casual and flexible atmosphere – there are no barriers between us. Team members can stop by and chat with me any time and share their ideas. If an idea is good, it’s instantly injected into the project.
So, in a nutshell, the Datsun design team is quick, direct, spontaneous and able to adjust fast to the changes happening in these very volatile markets where customers’ demands change very often. I’m proud to be part of this great team.
What’s your motto?
My personal motto is “Ningen banji saio ga uma.” The meaning of this Japanese saying is that the future is unpredictable, and what may look like something bad today, may become good tomorrow. So, a positive attitude to whatever is happening is of utmost importance to me.
I also have a professional one, the one that I always return to if I’m becoming conservative, the three “uns” – unpredictable, unexpected, unconventional. These three kick me into an uncomfortable and uncertain zone professionally and make me look for more creative solutions. I hope this principle will be reflected in our future Datsun models.