Proton Design Competition 2015 4

Last month, as part of our coverage of the Proton Design Competition 2015, we spoke to Proton’s Head of Design Azlan Othman regarding vehicle packaging – a new consideration for participants to incorporate into their designs this year – and how it affects the design of a car as a whole. Today, we’re focusing on the latter; more specifically, what makes a Proton look like a Proton?

Are there specific elements or a general design language that are unique to Proton?

We have certain cues that we’ve been propagating since we launched the Prevé – in fact, we already had that vision in mind even on the EMAS show car. When we designed the Iriz and all the cars that followed, we made sure we carried those elements through.

The “Proton Wings” that cradle the badge and the single front graphic that envelops the “wings,” for example, make up the characteristic front end. The mouth that you see on front the Iriz is becoming an identifier as well.

For the side, there’s the characteristic line that usually joins the headlights to the tail lights, which we define as the “arrow.” This also provides definition and breaks up surfaces so that they don’t look too heavy. At the rear, there’s the horizontal connecting bar that connects the tail lights.

Those are some of the cues, but we have been using these for a number of years. So now, we are looking at modernising these elements. So what does that mean for the contest? Well, it means that the contestants are allowed to explore further what we have already used today, because we are looking for concept cars here. So they’re allowed to interpret these elements in their own ways.

However, one key word that they must remember is that all the elements must work in harmony. It’s very easy to have all these nice features, but if they don’t gel together than the design is not going to work.

How about inside? What makes Proton’s interiors different from the others?

For the interior, we actually carry over the DNA of the exterior. Two main elements include the layered design that you see on the Iriz – done by design and will be in our future cars – and the cascading effect of the IP [instrument panel, i.e. dashboard]. And if you look at [the Iriz’ dashboard] from afar, it echoes part of the front of the car.

The Iriz has got very prominent “side blades” – are there any benefits in having those elements?

That feature is not just for design’s sake – it also strengthens the door panels. A door panel without the feature will simply have a huge, almost flat surface, which will tend to wobble. So we added that feature to assist engineering and manufacturing – the panel is now very stiff, which is ideal for NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] as well as crash protection.

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From a design standpoint, it also gives us the ability to provide customisation in the future. When we added it, we already knew that we could have different colourations within the boundary, either through painting or by using decals. I’ve seen a few cars on the road that already have that, with things like carbon fibre stickers applied – I think the owners have gotten the message!

What about the Iriz’ chamfered rear design, the bit that wraps around the tailgate and tail lights? What’s the thought behind that?

We’ve had a long squabble with engineering and manufacturing over this frame design – they hate it. It’s not an easy thing to implement because the surfaces are almost at right angles, so you can end up with the material crimping and stretching. You can also have issues matching the bumper with the body side panels.

For us, however, it was important because a frame holds something important, whether it’s a picture on a wall or anything else that is of value to you. On the Iriz, it puts everything that’s within it – the horizontal connecting bar, the tail lights, the badges – into perspective. Without it, it would just be another rounded rear end – soft, undefined.

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As it is, the trend right now is to have edgy design, so we’re trying as much as possible to have that in our creations. The feature also complements the aforementioned “side blades” and, aerodynamically, it helps to separate the airflow at the rear as well.

Are there any other design features that are unique to the Iriz?

There are certain subtle elements that have been included, such as the “Proton” script in the headlights. Those are what we call high-value design cues – small, but very important. It’s the first time we’ve ever done that – and I think people really appreciate it – and other people have done it successfully before.

On the inside, there’s also the 3D stitching effect on the dashboard. We were actually the first to use the technology, but we were late to market it. I was in Korea when we were building the moulds, and we had moulds from another brand next to ours – even though ours came out first, we had a longer development time [for the Iriz].

So we thought we’d let them launch it first, because they had the credibility – we were worried that if ours came out first in the market, people might not accept it so well. In the end, it worked out quite well. I know a lot people who, when they get in the car, think it’s leather, then knock on it and think, “wow, it’s not, but it looks so much like leather.”

The perceived value, therefore, is very high, despite the low cost it took us to manufacture the part. The development cost itself is high, because there are actually eight layers of texture applied to the moulds just to create the effect, so it’s very labour-intensive and expensive. But it’s a cost that you pay only once, and as a company we decided that it was worth the investment – and I think it paid off.

Any other helpful tips regarding the competition?

I think it’s very important for contestants to follow the subtle hints that we’ve provided in the terms and conditions. We felt that last year, a lot people were jumping head first without even reading them, so a lot of people forgot their design briefs, for example.

Also, pay attention to the theme [concept car for the Malaysian family] and the judging criteria – which is very important – and do a lot of research. It’s more than just submitting several beautiful pictures; designs must have meaning behind them.

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We’ve added a requirement to submit hand-drawn works, and they’ll have to be sent through postal mail this year. Digital technology has advanced in such a way that sometimes it’s very difficult to tell whether the work was actually done by that person. We want the integrity; we want to appreciate the skill of each individual – that’s why we wanted them to do things the traditional way.

This year, Category 1 (13-17 years old) participants have to submit work as groups of up to three. Any tips on how they can work effectively with each other?

In any group, there should be proper delegation of work. During the brainstorming and ideation, anyone can take part and contribute as much as they can, but as you go further, in terms of presentation renderings, there should only be one person doing them.

That creates a consistency in the presentation, rather than having one person doing the front render and another doing the rear. Others can produce the packaging drawing, for example, which has no relation to the final rendering.

There should also be a leader appointed from the very beginning; ownership should never be shared equally, because when push comes to shove, one person must be responsible to make a particular decision. If nobody can decide, if there is no consensus, the leader should decide and the others should pull back and support the leader, no matter where they stood before.

Interested? If you’re a budding designer, submit your vision of a concept car for the Malaysian family, along with a design brief on A4 paper containing the title of the design, the design concept and unique selling proposition of the car. Participants can submit a maximum of three (3) designs via mail only for this year; the entry form for the competition can be downloaded here (BM form here) or collected from selected Proton outlets nationwide.