YOKOHAMA, Japan – Giovanny Arroba is the program design director of Nissan and the mastermind behind the recently unveiled Ariya Concept. The crossover EV embodies the Nissan Intelligent Mobility vision of personal transportation – one where electrification and vehicle intelligence will offer seamless and adaptive travel experiences free of accidents or harmful emissions. With twin electric motors, powerful acceleration and award-winning driver assistance technology the Ariya Concept is also a complete reinvention of Nissan's design.
In an interview at Café Z, a trendy coffee oasis with a Nissan Z theme inside Nissan's Global Design Center, Arroba discussed how the Ariya Concept came to life and how Nissan is now part of his DNA, and detailed the process of turning his dreams into reality.
Q: Why did you seek out a design career with Nissan?
Arroba: After graduating from the ArtCenter College of Design in 2000, I was fortunate to discover Nissan's design oasis in San Diego. At the time, the environment was an ideal place for a designer to create something new, without the heavy baggage of an existing formula. So starting then, to now, I've had the chance to influence and shape the form language of the brand. Now, Nissan is part of me, and I am part of Nissan. I believe we are just warming up as we shape the future of the company.
Q: What was your initial approach to penning the Ariya Concept?
Arroba: It started with our vision of how to shape the future. I wanted to merge form with the unique experience of an EV, and the autonomous and connected technology that Nissan Intelligent Mobility represents. The relatable attraction of the automobile as a dynamic object to be driven is essential for the concept.
Q: Last October, you attended the reveal of the Nissan Ariya Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. What was your feeling when you saw your latest creation making its world debut?
Arroba: The press conference opening statement, “Welcome to the Future of Nissan,” made a big impression on me and I felt electricity in the crowd. The Ariya Concept is the first visual, the first window into the tech that Nissan will embody. I am extremely proud and happy, and I feel we hit the mark with the design and style.
Q: Imagine the Ariya Concept is a production car. Where do you want to drive it first?
Arroba: I grew up in Southern California, so I would love to drive it up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) from Santa Barbara through Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey. Carving along the West Coast with the Pacific Ocean by my side would feel surreal.
On an extended vacation, touring around Spain and Portugal or Scotland's west coast and the Isle of Skye are high up on my list.
Q: What songs or albums would soundtrack your drive?
Arroba: I love music as much as I love cars. It’s all about what mood I’m in. All genres find a way into my inspiration, but at this moment, my mood has been orchestral electronica. So I would play the album “Kiasmos” by Kiasmos. Perhaps throw in Kamasi Washington’s “Street Fighter Mas.” And Brock Berrigan; “The Scenic Route” album is good on an Ariya Concept road trip. Some D.J. Rogers; “It’s Good to be Alive” has a place in the playlist, because I’m retro like that.
Q: How many were involved with bringing the Ariya Concept to life?
Arroba: It was a multi-department effort including Design, Engineering, Product Planning and Marketing, all working closely together with a shared vision of our brand's future. Not to mention the countless artisans who built and programmed the concept from an idea into a physical reality.
I think people don't realize how many designers it takes or how diverse the expertise that’s required to design a car. There are many complexities as it is not a static product, but an integral part of an owner's life. We must ensure we give it personality that reflects its function and provides an overall lasting experience.
Q: Speaking of the design team, how does everyone’s cultures and backgrounds come together in the creation process?
Arroba: The design team, coming together from all around the world, is like an orchestra, and sometimes a session jazz band. We all play different instruments and bring to the “music” our own depths of artistic passion and inspirations. Together, we develop and combine our numerous layers of notes to compose our symphony.
The Ariya Concept is a global effort in that same way. Having a global team enriches our concept with a shared brand vision that’s music to the ears.
Q: Do you research other areas besides automotive and transportation? Like the future of fashion? Architecture? Toys? Food? Any standout inspiration from an unconventional source?
Arroba: Yes! All of the above, as well as music and film – both for the content as well as the way they are composed and directed. Designing a car is like creating a visual symphony as well as setting the scene for the customer’s journey.
Q: Growing up, were you specifically interested in automotive design?
Arroba: Actually, I wanted to be an architect from an early age, and still love architecture. It is said that “space is the breath of art.” Film and animation were other art forms that I daydreamed about – still do, in fact. They organically influence my design process.
Q: Did you have a favorite car, real or fictional, as a kid because of its design?
Arroba: This is too difficult! I’ve had, and have, too many cars that inspire me. Italian cars and concepts from the ‘60s and ‘70s are on another level. Cars like the 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero, 1972 Maserati Boomerang or the voluptuous 1968 Alfa Romeo Stradale and 1952 Disco Volante.
Q: We've recently seen automakers developing concepts specifically for movies. Which movie would you like to design a car for?
Arroba: I would love to design a car for James Bond, or something that would live in the world of Blade Runner.
Q: Is there a running characteristic that is uniquely “Gio” in the vehicles you’ve worked with?
Arroba: I like balance. This is critical when composing model identities tailored to the target customer. The balance of a sharp gesture with the flow of a surface that effortlessly surrounds the exterior, and in the interior around the driver and passenger. This is my pursuit and something that I hope can be seen whether it’s the Infiniti Essence Concept, IMs concept, the production Maxima or, of course, the Ariya Concept.
Q: You initially use pen and paper when you design. How do you marry an analog approach with cutting-edge technology like the VR you use to talk to designers around the world?
Arroba: For me, when daydreaming and visualizing new ideas or concepts, a sketchpad and pen are always the simplest way to record and communicate ideas.
Drawing on paper or digitally is the language we use to sketch our ideas out as a first step. After we have agreed on a direction, we either sculpt a clay model or create a digital model, or both. Then, we can use that to confirm our ideas using VR, before creating a physical full-scale model. VR is an important part of the process, as it allows us to confirm a reality that does not exist yet in a short amount of time.
Q: What other tools are essential for your process?
Arroba: Firstly, to keep an open mind, to keep daydreaming, to keep discovering. Along with sketching and VR, clay modeling allows for different levels of finesse through shape and form. I also value this level of exploration in a digital space as much as clay. Animations or film made from our design data helps us capture and communicate the experience we are trying to create.
Q: What skill is difficult for artists trying to break free in automotive design?
Arroba: Actually, I feel it’s separating the drawing (illustration) from the actual “real” physical object we are trying to create. Designers tend to get caught up and fall in love with the sketch or rendering and have a difficult time translating it to reality. The sketch is just a way to allow us to work out our romantic mathematical equations from daydream to reality. Drawing is part of our vocabulary but not the final word.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to go into car design?
Arroba: Draw like crazy. Draw, draw, draw. Draw to be proficient in the language of design. Having a mastery of drawing is needed to shape the design symphony. Visualize and digest the history of cars and why they look the way they do. Research vehicle trends, attend motor shows and gain insight into how cars are built. To understand the collective consciousness of the past and present, to be able to take the next future step or break through it altogether.
General Manager, Global Product Communications
Deputy General Manager, Japan Communications
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