Keitarou Hinoue is one of the great young Lexus design talents. He is responsible for shaping the form and function of Lexus interiors in a way that anticipates the needs and preferences of customers as motoring and mobility enter an exciting new era of electrification and autonomous driving. He can trace his deep interest in car design back to when as youngster he first saw the adventure movie Back to the Future on TV and was “awestruck” by the time-travelling DeLorean car.
“I bought an illustrated book on Giugiaro’s work (the man who penned the DeLorean’s lines), came to know about car design and from there set my sights on making it my profession,” he said.
It wasn’t long before he was aware of the work Lexus was doing as well: “When I was in high school, around 2006, I read about Lexus’ design philosophy in a magazine and that made me want to become a Lexus designer.” On leaving school he studied product design at Kyoto City University and on graduating in 2012, he realised his young ambition, joining Toyota Motor Corporation.
His focus was and remains vehicle interiors: “Because I wanted to create materials and things that could be touched, I became an interior designer. I worked on component design for the LS sedan, from the steering wheel and seats to the overall vehicle, after which I became involved in more advanced development.”
Hinoue further developed his skills in 2019 with a master’s degree in branding and product design at the Domus Academy in Milan, knowledge that he’s now applying to future Lexus projects.
His creative inspiration draws strongly on the natural world: “I believe there is a fundamental reason why we find certain forms beautiful, whether it’s in nature, science or art. For me, it’s something often derived from the natural world, developed from things I experienced or learned when a child,” he said.
“When I was very young, I would watch insects and animals and draw pictures of them, which is how I learned about the shapes produced by nature – forms that I think have a natural appeal to people’s eyes and sensibilities.”
He adds that movies and comics play their part, too, inspiring the way he develops the configuration and interfaces of interior spaces to meet changing times and tastes.
Anticipation – knowing how to meet a customer’s needs – is central to Lexus’ highly precise approach, but Hinoue does not find this limiting. “Thinking deeply about users’ behaviour and intentions means we can define the necessary functions. Because we can narrow down the design direction, I believe the speed of development actually becomes faster and more efficient,” he said.
“Rather than think ‘I want it to be used this way,’ I try to think ‘customers will want to use it like this’ and also to imagine unexpected ways it will be used.”
He acknowledges the importance of constant research and evaluation of human behaviour to keep abreast of social trends, so that the new products maintain a sense of being advanced.
The L-finesse design philosophy is central to the Lexus designers’ work: “It expresses a desire to raise car design to the realm of art, bringing together advanced technologies, a desire for beauty and takumi craftsmanship,” said Hinoue. “Although all the processes we apply are important, by constantly anticipating how our customers will feel, we strive to weave things into our designs that go beyond form.”
Asked to choose his favourite Lexus model for interior design, Hinoue named the 2018 LS for its cabin – the first car he worked on as a new employee. “Being assigned straight away to the flagship LS, I was determined to give it my all and senior team members taught me a great deal about how to go about the task. We were able to use Lexus traditions they have cultivated, combined with the ideas of younger members free from common practice to come up with completely new things.”
For the best vehicle exterior design, his pick was the 2017 IS sedan “because this was the car that led me – when I was a high school student – to aim at becoming a Lexus designer.”
Looking to the future, Hinoue sees a developing partnership between car and driver as the enabler of new opportunities, a concept expressed in the Japanese term “aisha” (in Japan, people sometimes refer to their cars as “aisha” meaning “beloved car”).
“Both the automobile and mobility are on the verge of great change, but through its human-centred approach, Lexus wants to open up rich lifestyles, applying aisha to enable mutual growth of car and driver as partners in life.”
“Specifically, in terms of vehicle interiors and with the widespread adoption of electrified vehicles, it’s possible design will become simpler and the amount of usable space inside a car will increase. That’s precisely why I believe moving spaces will become even more important. I want to give careful consideration of how each user’s needs are diversifying so we can pursue development that lets us deliver the best possible moving spaces and experiences,” he said.
“When everything becomes electrified and autonomous, the way a car is packaged will change, with interiors becoming much simpler and uncluttered. I think the degree of design freedom will increase – mightn’t it be possible to have interior forms that match individual people? Personally, that’s what I’m hoping for.”
The original interview was published by Două Locuri.