Nissan design head Alfonso Albaisa bats for art courses

Alfonso Albaisa

Chennai:  “I was born in a Cuban ghetto in Miami. My average at engineering college was 0.5. But now I’m the global head of design for Nissan, a 100-year-old car company,” said Nissan’s senior vice-president for Global Design, Alfonso Albaisa, talking to students of Chennai Public School.

He was addressing them as part of Nissan’s Roots for Design programme to encourage children worldwide to explore career opportunities in arts, design and creativity.

Speaking to ‘News Today’ after the students’ interaction, the design guru talked about his humble beginnings, the future of car design and urged parents and students to look at arts as a possible career choice.

Q: Tell us about Roots of Design programme.

A: When I was made global head of design at Nissan, I almost dropped to my knees. I never thought this was possible as I am the first non-Japanese global head of design of a Japanese car company. I felt a responsibility towards children who are struggling with learning disabilities like I did. So, I talked to my peers and decided to start this programme where I could visit schools around the world during my business trips and talk to students about alternative career opportunities in arts, design and creativity.

Q: Did you always want to be a designer?

A: I did not know what I wanted to do growing up. The only thing I was sure of was that I was going to fail and failure was going to come quick and hard. I was not smart like the other kids. My average at engineering college was just 0.5 which I believe is still a record at my university 30 years later (laughs). But I was very creative and made model boards out of wood and paper. I switched to arts at this point upon my mother’s insistence. That was when life changed completely. I was surrounded by kids who were similar to me and that nurturing creative environment made me who I am.

Q: What do you wish to say to creative children and their parents?

A: Sometimes, parents, out of love, try to protect their children by not allowing them to pursue their creative interests and turn them into a career. They believe art cannot make money. They try to push their kids into engineering, accounts and so on. If you are a creative person, a life as an accountant is a death sentence. I want to break the whole myth of how art cannot be sustainable to life. The truth is far from it. There are equal amounts of job for a designer as an engineer and the salary is the same if not better. The life they can have as a designer is as secure as a life as an engineer. And, they get the bonus of happiness.

Q: Electric cars are becoming the future of mobility. Do you think there will be a significant change in how cars will look in the future?

A: There is a possibility. But, at the end of the day, it’s the customer who needs to accept the design. According to me, cars of the future just need a bed of batteries in a body and wheels. That’s it. In some cars, the steering wheel is not physically connected to the tyres and are already becoming redundant, as we have ride-by-wire tech. Today, a joystick is enough to control a car. But the customers have to accept this. We designers are the champions of technology and its potential. At the same time, we are also champions of the people. We are always pushing the fine line of what is possible and what people want.

Q: How is designing a car today compared to 30 years ago?

A: The difference is like day and night. Physical components are becoming less and less. In EV cars, batteries are becoming denser and shrinking in size. We do not need a car to be big anymore. We can seat seven people comfortably in 4.3 metres. The envelope is shrinking. As a designer, you are always stuck half in reality and half in future.

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A Harsha Vardhan