A closer look at the past 25 years of the Japanese car design industry

Japan Sep 26, 2019

Interview with Akio Sasaki

Owner/Principal Designer at Digicrafters Co.

Akio spent 25 years of working for Isuzu Motors as a designer. He shares stories about his experience in the car and motorbike industry and talks about the changes in the past and the future of design.

1. What type of design work do you do?

After graduating from Waseda University in Tokyo, I joined Isuzu Motors. I spend 25 years there doing motorboat design. Today I run my own design company in Kanagawa called Digicrafters, and I focus on motorbike design.

2. What were the biggest changes in the past how design is the approach?

In the old days, we did everything analogue, the traditional way of designing. Today we do almost everything in 3D design, using computers. The world became digital and industrial design benefits from the developments.

In the old days, designers had to do everything by hand. Today some skills can be replaced by computers, but just computers still cannot create the whole of the design. What we, humans have is our ideas, perspectives, and our mind at work. We still have to think about functionality, look, and other requirements and have to create the design concept by ourselves. The design cannot be done automatically. We still need to do sketches, add the text, and look at the design from the functionality, and how the customers and consumers will use it.


3. What is your approach to sustainable, good design?

The answer to this question is straightforward: from the money standpoint, the target is to achieve good sales and high results. Good design generates sales, and other aspects are that the design should have strong functionality, safe to use and easy to utilize.

4. Where do you get your inspiration from?

In the old days, at Isuzu, as a large company, we had a big department, and the management gave us all the details and the descriptions of the projects. At every new task, we've received a very clear briefing, including the expectations of the engineering department related to the functionality. Once we were clear on all the details, we started to sketch, discuss the parts of the design and we experimented as well. During the work process, we decided if something will work and look good, and created various options. We shared our drawings with the engineering team and the management, and later we further modified the details according to their feedback. As a pre-production process, we finalized the design and sent it to the engineers to produce the actual item. Today the process is the same but much faster and of course, turned in to a digital process; using 3D printers, computers, and various digital equipment.


5. What were the most substantial changes you've noticed in the past 25 years in the automotive/transportation industry?

Analog to digital shifting; 2D world to 3D world. There were a lot of changes, and one significant shift was the focus from gasoline to electric motors/hybrids. It is a substantial change, and now we are only at the beginning. I don't think the global car parks can be changed to electric cars any time soon, because the infrastructure needs to be adjusted too. A lithium battery is still expensive, and it is also not without its danger of being explosive in the worst-case scenario. Hybrids are better than petrol cars, but those are not the final solution, purely electric vehicles are.

6. What do you think about the movement of E-bikes, E-scooters? Electric cars?

In China, the government strongly supports electric car adaptation. In Japan, the process is slower; there are many small electric and hybrid-type of cars and motorbikes in a design, prototyping and production phase. On the roads, we have a lot of lightweight, little cars. They are very economical city cars, not so expensive, and fuel consumption is around 4 litre for 100km. For this reason, electric and hybrid vehicles are not very popular.

7. How do you see the future of transportation design evolve?

The future certainly has some autonomous vehicles, robotic cars on the road; however, I doubt it would dominate any market. Robotic drivers in certain situations are useful because they can eliminate real drivers' unpredictable behaviour. At the moment, 90-95% the machines can detect the environment's behaviour, but of course, not every circumstance can be understood such as snow, pedestrians. Computer problems on rare occasions also cannot be eliminated.

8. What is your recommendation for Hubbers creators?

A designer should be creator, he or she should have good human communication ability, should be patient, and of course, strong skills. Skill-wise people need to keep up with technology advancements, use 3D and other systems to support the most high-end, modern design.

Akio is an expert in industrial design, drawing, 2D and 3D visualization, and user experience.


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