The Lexus Design Awards with Simon Humphries
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In relation to these questions Simon Humphries gave some interesting insights on why automotive design today needs a revolution of ideas to keep up with mobility innovation. The head of Toyota and Lexus Global Design on the latest developments in automotive design and his role as a jury member in one of the most prestigious international Design Awards. British-born designer Simon joined Lexus already in 1994 and has since been involved in a wide range of different vehicle designs. Today, he leads his designer teams with creativity and the ability to turn ideas into reality.

Simon: "Before I joined the company, I had studied industrial design in the UK. So, I didn't have any experience with automotive design at all, but I brought experience from other fields. We also need that kind of flexibility for our transformation to a 'mobility company’.”

Asked about the role design plays in these times of efficiency, Simon answers: "The most important thing is that design takes into account the feelings of the user. And you have to be able to explain the design with the help of a story. That's why it's quite important for designers to be able to communicate. I always try to explain what our clients need and how my design reflects those needs. If you show a design to five different people, everyone will focus on different aspects. So, to communicate the goals of the design, we need to communicate. In the design studio where I used to work, I was solely responsible for explaining projects and convincing the client, and that experience still shapes my work today."

So what are his feelings about the standardization towards automated driving? "Some fear that automotive design will be standardized by autonomous driving. I believe that the opposite will be the case. No one needs their car for the same things all the time. For example, you drive it alone to work, another time to go shopping, or go on an excursion with your family. So it's better if the vehicle can respond to individual needs."

With all these rapid changes in the automotive space over the last years, one can get the impression that software engineering is somewhat eating design – what are his thoughts on this? "You can't design cars today with the same attitude as in the past. We need a revolution of ideas. There used to be clear trends in automotive design, but those days are gone. Customers have become incredibly diverse, and markets are changing rapidly. What matters to us is how quickly we can incorporate customer needs into our products."

"In the Lexus Design Award, all entrants have an equal chance." Simon Humphries, Jury Member of the Lexus Design Award 2021

Since last year, Simon Humphries has been a member of the jury for the Lexus Design Award, an international design competition the luxury brand of Toyota has held since 2013. The competition aims to discover and encourage up-and-coming designers who are creating ‘designs for a better future.’ Lexus announced the finalists of the Lexus Design Award 2021 in January. The renowned jury selected six up-and-coming designers from the original 2,079 applications from 66 countries.

“The Lexus Design Award is a talent competition for up-and-coming designers. They can present their innovations on an internationally respected platform. In selecting the six finalists, it was crucial that their ideas embody the core values of the Lexus brand: Anticipate, Innovate and Captivate. The design developed should contribute to a better future. The strength of the Lexus Design Award is that all participants have equal opportunities, whether they are professionals or students and regardless of where they live. Professional designers are always trying new things to get noticed. As a public competition, the Lexus Design Award opens up a huge opportunity for winners to do that."

Six finalists were selected from the submissions from around the world, who then have six months to develop their ideas further with the support of well-known mentors. The announcement of the Grand Prix winners traditionally takes place at Milan Design Week in April. As last year's event had to be cancelled, the results and the work of the six finalists were presented at an online event.

It is of particular interest to see how the finalists coped with the six months developments right within a global pandemic? Simon explains: "It was certainly a difficult experience for the finalists, but a crisis can also be a stimulus for new creative solutions. Designers need new ideas to meet people's needs. This also applies to cars: We must not focus too much on the cars of the past. A new era is beginning in which we should leave behind familiar assumptions - for example, that a car is just a means of transportation - and set out for a more innovative future."

No doubt about that: the automotive industry needs to broaden its perspective. And it is important for automotive designers in particular to continue to believe in the power of design. Our MOTION gallery shows some of the design work that the finalists have created – we think with some amazing results, enjoy.

“Designers need new ideas to meet people's needs. This also applies to cars: We must not focus too much on the cars of the past. A new era is beginning in which we should leave behind familiar assumptions”
Simon Humphries - Head of Global Design Toyota and Lexus

The finalists of the Lexus Design Award 2021 at a glance:

CY-BO by Kenji Abe (Japan).

Sustainable, reusable packaging material that can be assembled like cells.

Kenji Abe © Lexus

Heartfelt by Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea (New Zealand & Tonga, based in New Zealand)

A device that enables virtual hugs.

Gayle Lee & Jessica Vea © Lexus

InTempo by Alina Holovatiuk (Ukraine)

Gloves that use rhythm and music to distract from stressful situations.

Alina Holovatiuk © Lexus

KnitX by Irmandy Wicaksono (Indonesia, based in the US)

Digital 3D knitting of functional electronic textiles for multimodal visual, auditory and tactile material interaction.

Irmandy Wicaksono © Lexus

Solar Desalination Skylight by Henry Glogau (New Zealand & Austria, based in Denmark)

Device that uses seawater to generate natural diffused light, potable water, and energy through the remaining salt.

Henry Glogau © Lexus

Terracotta Valley Wind by Intsui Design (China, based in Japan)

A terracotta evaporative cooling system for subway stations that uses wind generated by the train.

The six finalists participated in a five-day online workshop in mid-January with Joe Doucet, Sabine Marcelis, Mariam Kamara and Sputniko! The jury of Paola Antonelli, Dong Gong, Greg Lynn and Simon Humphries will now select the winner based on the final prototypes and presentations in April 2021.

Intsui Design © Lexus

Images courtesy of Lexus