Amidst the opulence and prestige of car week events held in Pebble Beach, California, last month, I had the privilege of delving deep into the brand’s multi-cultural world, exploring their team’s Zen-like creativity, inspiring design philosophy, and the core values that drive their corporate culture.
In addition to getting a preview of the new QX Monograph during its reveal and learning about its design features, I also spoke at great length with several of their executives, head designers, and team leaders, including Alfonso Albaisa (SVP for Global Design for Nissan Motor Corporation / INFINITI), Taisuke Nakamura (Head of Design for INFINITI), Craig Keeys (Group VP, INFINITI Americas), Shelley Pratt (Director, Marketing Communications & Media at INFINITI), Kyle Bazemore (Director Corporate Communications at INFINITI), and Marleen Yowakim (Corporate Communications Manager at INFINITI).
INFINITI QX Monograph: Inspired by The Power of Nature
The INFINITI QX Monograph concept car is an alluring blend of artistry, innovation, and elegance, influenced by the brand’s signature Japanese style and inspired by the power of nature. The car’s sculpted lines flowed like the brushstrokes of a master painter, while its bold silhouette made a strong, commanding statement.
The car embodies the feeling of a tranquil sanctuary on the go – a space where modern technology and nature can coexist in perfect harmony. In the fast-paced, hectic world that we live in, being able to escape into the serene refuge of our vehicle (especially during the daily commute of a busy work day), is often exactly what we need to find that elusive inner balance we all seek.
The significance of this concept car’s debut is that it heralds the dawn of a new design language for the brand, signaling several key aesthetic elements that will be incorporated into the future automobiles that they produce, including an updated three-dimensional emblem (that gives the subtle appearance that the INFINITI logo is blending into the horizon, much like the road ahead), a unique lighting system, and a double-arched grille.
Alfonso Albaisa, the visionary behind INFINITI’s captivating designs, shared his ideas about the concept car, as well as his passion and inspiration for design.
CLP: From your early days of sketching to leading design at INFINITI, as a Cuban-American working for a Japanese automotive company, how have your cultural influences, travels, and personal background shaped your unique design perspective?
AA: I am a bit blessed to have grown up in a design context, and yes, literally growing up inside my father’s architectural firm – surrounded by Cuban and American architects during the ambitious Miami modern surge in the 60s and 70s. I should steer from generalities, but seeing the different backgrounds, different cultures all chancing artistic dreams remains a clear memory and assurance for me. Assurance means that 1 plus 1 is not 2 when you’re bringing the artistic wealth of cultures together on one project! For me specifically, I saw my father in the studio every day. As the principal, I saw him run between projects, meet with clients, go to the construction sites, and address the business needs of the company. After that long day, I saw him sit on the sofa and run through a 7’11” notebook with his felt tip pen sketching all kinds of things from big to small, elevations to details. Seeing this and seeing all the activities related to building his dream was a huge inspiration for me and gave me a clear sense that I also want to create!
CLP: How would you describe the INFINITI QX Monograph, and what makes this concept car a fundamental foundation for the future styling language for INFINITI vehicles?
AA: ART AT A GRAND SCALE! As INFINITI designers, we are blessed to have such varied canvases to work on. For the next few months, you will see concepts that illustrate how our evolving language moves through different contexts. On Monograph, it was to celebrate artistry on a courageous profile. Proud volume up front and tappers seamlessly rearward. Inviting science to help us shape our forms to be at the state of the art in aerodynamics; additionally rethinking our iconography into the digital age with our signatures.
CLP: Design, much like storytelling, carries narratives. Can you reveal a specific design that encapsulates a compelling story or personal experience from your life?
AA: Open yourself to inspiration and change big with it. When I first became a director in the United States, one of my roles was to send to Japan our US view on ongoing projects that we were not working on. This was some time ago, thus we would receive a FedEx package with photos of scale models. On one project, a new genre of SUV – the first model looked great, chiseled, coupe-ish, and rugged with a great stance. Second, a bit similar with different specifics. The third shuck me…. like an egg that swallowed an aircraft carrier! The hood and shoulder were monolithic straight; the upper a pure half circle; tires at the corner and my heart on the floor. This became the selected design and the first generation FX – still my favorite! A decade and a half later we started sketching the Q60, and Hideo Komuro, the author of the FX was the lead designer. He was running with a different language now, the sheet metal itself undulating and moving – expressing the power lurking within.
CLP: From clay models to digital simulations, the tools of design have evolved. How do you find a balance between harnessing cutting-edge technology and preserving the artisanal essence of design? What’s your favorite part of the design process?
AA: New creation technologies and new generations of designers come at once. We have designers whose creative spirituality is digital and it is easier for them to find their dreams in that space. They explore new forms, intersections, and transitions by themselves much like my generation did but in clay. The tools we use do influence the forms we create, and it is so beautiful to watch. We have a mix within each team and the analog chased by digital processes work alongside proposals that live only in the digital realm. As a result, I live running down to the studios every day and jump into my goggles at my desk multiple times a day. The world has become smaller with VR allowing me to skip to London, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, San Diego, and back before lunch! Love it is an understatement.
CLP: One of my passions is to inspire people to follow their dreams. As a notable leader in the automotive industry who is undoubtedly pursuing his passions, what empowering and encouraging advice would you give to young people who want to create successful and fulfilling careers?
AA: Work, work, work. Learn, learn, learn. Observe, observe, observe! The more you practice your art, the closer you will get to capturing the beautiful vision you have in your head so the rest of us can marvel at it. The more you look beyond yourself – at all the wonderful people in the world – the more your work will resonate and grow exponentially. Passion and patience are hard concepts. You need to run as if every step is the “one” knowing your love is a marathon.
In addition to speaking with Alfonso, I also had the opportunity to chat with Taisuke Nakamura, the Head of INFINITI Design. During our conversation, he expanded on the influence of nature in their creative process, which organically inspired his creative ideas about designing the concept car’s uniquely shaped grill in such a way that it resembles the delicate swaying fronds of the native Japanese bamboo forest. In addition, he spoke fondly about his connection with his family and explained how his talented wife and children inspire and teach him about their chosen fields of career, which in turn, ignites his imagination and fuels his creativity.
Here’s a glimpse into our conversation:
CLP: Please tell me about the bamboo inspiration (that you mentioned) and how it influenced the car design. How did this come to be?
TN: One of the quite important inspirations behind INFINITI design is the power of nature, and that influenced a lot of the aspects of our design philosophy and the design language for our QX Monograph Concept. We captured the motion of nature, like a wind-sculpted shape, naturally tapering the car to the back. That’s the familiarity with better aerodynamics as a kind of visual statement.
We also have a 3-D new INFINITI logo, which has a sense of depth and a vanishing point, meaning that the badge is like the road in front of you. We tried to capture the depths of the three-dimensionality by the physical depths of the badge. The grill is a very dominant element in the front, so when I tried to connect this vanishing point and depth, one idea came up in my mind which was about the bamboo forest in my hometown of Kyoto. When I was walking through that small path in the bamboo forest, there was a strong wind coming through the forest, so the bamboo started to move very slowly. Sometimes bamboo shows a quite nice bowing gesture, and when you look up, you can see all the bamboo is covering the path. That is somehow the mixture of the vanishing point, where you are walking towards, and the surroundings, which is very serene, almost like meditating your mind.
TN: And that actually influenced the digital piano key, which is a technical element to describe the signature of the lighting. The bamboo gradually transforms into the digital piano key by wrapping it to the side and showing up in the small air inlet, which is also a continuation of the bamboo expression. To the back, we have the digital piano key to pick up all of the movement from the front to the back, so everything is kind of wrapping around in a very simple single gesture.
CLP: It’s beautiful. Well, often times when I speak with designers, I ask them what their muse or personal source of inspiration is. Some say architecture, others mention sculptures, so it really varies. I find it interesting to learn how designers synthesize what they see in the world, by incorporating their unique viewpoint into their artistry. I’m creative as well, so when I walk into a space, my eye is scanning the room or the venue for beauty, because that’s what I’m looking for, as a photographer. I want to capture beautiful, joyful moments.
The more that I learn about the INFINITI brand, which integrates the power of nature, as you mentioned, is spending time in nature a part of your work-life balance and meditation routine?
TN: I think it’s more about personal experience. When I’m not working, it’s more about entertainment and refreshing myself by walking around nature, especially when I’m in my hometown with my parents. Those relaxing moments can actually create great sources of inspiration, and then creation comes up suddenly.
CLP: I totally understand, as it’s an opportunity to tap into the subconscious mind. I call it the autopilot mode, especially when we’re driving, which is often when I get a lot of great ideas. Many creative types have to recharge when they’re by themselves so that they can feel centered or grounded. So, when I’m in my car, that’s my opportunity to allow myself to think differently.
So, aside from nature, what else inspires you in life?
TN: For me, there are many different types of inspiration. In my family, my kids are doing different types of design. My wife is an architect, my daughter does packaging design for a cosmetics company, and my son is doing sports gear design. Everybody has a different aspect, but when we go together to something, like an art exhibition, we see things and then discuss it, because each of us has different viewpoints. We’re all interested in those kinds of creative things, and that is something that makes it feel a bit like a family business. So, that’s one of my sources of inspiration.
The other part is history and technology. As you know, the INFINITI brand is under corporate Nissan. So, we have a lot of history in the past, especially in the 1960s. The brand actually energized the Japanese people. The brand came to prove that a Japanese automobile company can actually compete globally by winning the race and making high-performance cars, so that is the DNA of INFINITI. It’s very much a challenging spirit.
CLP: Are there other historical figures or motivational speakers, authors, or leaders that inspire you, the way you approach your work, your passion, determination, and anything that goes back to the character of who you are, and what you’re building?
TN: There are a couple of people that come to mind.
I think, in regards to his contribution to technological development – Steve Jobs. What he invented, from the small Mac to the iPhone, the feel of minimalistic design that is very functional and useful, but not really complicated. It’s very simple and user-friendly. I think that philosophy seems very Japanese.
Another person is racecar driver, Ayrton Senna. He’s a Brazilian, and when he competed in races, he pushed very hard to win. So, I think that shows a very strong personality. Everybody was impressed by his performance. For me, I think he’s one of the heroes in my life.
INFINITI, the Brand: A Convergence of Corporate Culture, Core Values, and Character
Getting to see the QX Monograph up close, I witnessed the designers’ vibrant ideologies manifested into an eye-catching, tangible reality.
But I have to say – one of the true highlights of Monterey Car Week (aside from the plethora of exquisite automobiles on display), is the opportunity to enjoy lively, stimulating conversations and build relationships with talented, interesting, and dynamic people from all over the globe.
Over the past decade of covering Car Week events, I’ve gotten to know and befriend many of the key players and leaders in the auto industry. Aside from learning about the extensive creative design process that goes into developing the world’s most beautiful cars (which is always interesting to me), what’s really moved me the most is being able to get acquainted with people on a deeper human level, to hear their personal stories, laugh with them, and form bonds.
Having been an executive at a global business for the past 20+ years (working with many of the world’s leading chains), I’ve learned first-hand that corporate culture often influences the ethos of any brand, extending into the teams that they build, the products they manufacture, and even the experiences that they create for their customers (whether it be at a retail level or even through event marketing).
From thinking about how to enhance our lifestyle through technology or design details and creating engaging in-person activations that bring the essence of their brand to life, to providing outstanding customer service for their patrons, the convergence of core values, thoughtful consideration, and ingenuity starts at the top.
Whether we’ve been chatting at cocktail parties, brunches, or even private rock concerts (featuring bands like One Republic – pictured below), over the years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the INFINITI team at various Monterey Car Week events that they’ve hosted.
From the executives to the designers and beyond, I believe a corporation is only as good as the people who run it. That said, from my perspective, the INFINITI team has always exhibited class, character, and core values.
Their commitment to excellence isn’t limited to just cars; it transcends into their business as well. During last month’s Car Week, I was invited to the INFINITI Design Dinner at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which they hosted in a private dining room at Pebble Beach Resorts.
Beyond learning about the inspiration and innovation behind this concept car, the intimate dinner was an enriching experience that revealed the genuine heart and soul of the brand, and the people that drive it forward.
As a person who lives by the mantra “empowered women empower women”, in speaking with Shelley Pratt – Director of Marketing for INFINITI (pictured below on the left), it was evident that we share similar outlooks.
We not only talked about what it’s been like for her to get into the driver’s seat of her 20+ year career (especially in a typically male-dominated industry), but we also discussed the various ways that women tend to think about, research, shop for, and even test-drive cars differently than men.
The truth is – that while data shows that women often influence household purchasing decisions relative to vehicles, traditionally, men have predominantly been marketed to by automakers, and for good reason – they know (and care) more about what’s going on under the hood than most women (myself included).
From auto magazines like Road & Track to Car and Driver, if you take a glance at their media kits, you’ll quickly see that men are their key demographic (comprising 78-90% of their readership), as expected. But, fortunately, in recent years, this trend has started to shift gears…
starting to embrace the fact that female purchasing power has grown dramatically, and with that, comes new ways of thinking, educating, and influencing this rising wave of consumers.
While most women admittedly don’t talk “torque and tension” the way that guys often do, we do care greatly about the visual appeal, craftsmanship, performance, and lifestyle-enhancing technologies that a car can offer us. And, quite frankly, many of us gals actually love to get behind the wheel of our car, as it makes us feel bold and in charge of our destiny. Not to mention – we enjoy the exhilarating charge of driving a fast, powerful vehicle, just like guys do.
Since INFINITI is not only leading the way when it comes to thinking about how to design for and market to consumers, they also have played an integral role in the success and evolution of Car Week for nearly two decades.
As Shelley Pratt remarked, “INFINITI has been a sponsor of the Pebble Beach Concours since 2006, and the QX Monograph concept is our eighth global debut at this special automotive event. From showcasing our products to our sponsorship with MotorTrend’s Japanese Automotive Invitational, we are proud of the presence we’ve had at Pebble Beach Car Week over the years.”
As evidenced by this year’s events, Monterey Car Week showcased more than just cars; it offered an exciting glimpse into the intersection of INFINITI’s past, present, and future. With the QX Monograph Concept Car leading the way for the brand’s design language going forward, the company is poised to redefine the future of luxury automotive design, infusing it with the power, grace, and beauty of nature.