Alfonso Albaisa is serious about design. A Cuban American with his educational roots in Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, he has been Executive Design Director for Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd. since April 2013. Albaisa is a passionate and seasoned automotive designer with more than 25 years of experience— he joined the Nissan Design team in San Diego, Calif. in 1988. In talking to Albaisa his experience shows in his thoughtful answers and the way his broad vision for the entire Infiniti line is iterated in every facet of the design process.
In the world around him, Albaisa sees much to draw inspiration from. “I’m a sailor myself,” he said. “I’m interested in yachts and the fluidity of water.” In addition, Albaisa takes inspiration another design disciple, one that runs in his family. “My father was an architect and I wanted to be one when I was young. I definitely draw inspiration from architecture and have designed architecture for the company as well. I think architects speak about their beautifully too, so I enjoy reading about that very much.”
In the world of car design, Albaisa is impressed by the way British cars exemplify their heritage through design, by the general mastery exhibited by European carmakers, who essentially invented the category, and by the new frontier opened up by Chinese marques. “In my daily life, harnessing all of these things is the biggest pleasure and the biggest challenge. We want to respect what has come before, but always move forward.”
Part of that strategy, relies on a cosmopolitan workforce that might feel familiar to denizens of Dubai. In such an environment, visual cues gain even more importance. “When you work in a multilingual organization like Infiniti, the common point is in drawing and sculptures, these don’t need any explanation. They speak for themselves,” explained Albaisa.
Like any design pursuit, perspective is of central importance. “We express in our architecture, power through proportional clarity. We use proportion at a glance as an identifier for Infiniti. This comes back to the first FX, currently the QX70. At a glance, you immediately notice the very long hood, very straight shoulder and a kind of pod-like cabin, which was set back. It was a silhouette in a proportion that you would never forget. We've learned from this and we bring it to every car, so that in this kind of clarity the proportion has a signature. The proportion has a power, expresses a power in the engine and the drivetrain. These are the fundamental steps of Infiniti design,” Albaisa said.
The Infiniti aesthetic also echoes a Japanese cultural affiliation with natural elements, albeit through the lens of performance. “Infiniti models all have some inspiration from nature, with the organic shapes that are contrasted with very sharp, angular elements,” he said. “This is how we mix and curate the palette. Strictly, I wouldn't say that it's inspired by nature as much as a sense of performance, which has some organic sense of muscularity and artistry.” Look closely at the Q50, and you can see what he means.
It’s no mistake that the Infiniti range exudes such a strong sense of power. “An arching, downward motion gives you a feeling that the muscularity, or the gesture of the vehicle, is going to pounce, is going to leap, that it can go over any terrain that it encounters,” said Albaisa. This is part of the DNA of Infiniti.”
Inside, the car has to be every bit as sensual and muscular as out. One way to capture those feelings is by the proper use of high quality materials. “We use saddle leather, which is quite thick and very hard to move over shapes. So those bits of surface tend to be sheer and somewhat linear or plainer. Then we have very smooth leather that is sliced, that is stretched out, exposing speakers from behind. For instance, the QX Sport Inspiration inside is a very advanced sense of artistry; in the sense of the tailor, very experimental, a very high contrast as the blacks and the whites are next to each other, and quite bold. Also, the array of textures is quite impressive.”
SUV’s are a more and more important part of the luxury segment, and Infiniti is no exception. “As we start to look at the genres of the SUVs, you'll expect two or three cars that will have different degrees of commanding presence. If you look at today's portfolio, we have our mid-size and slightly larger cars. So we'll start to reveal, in shows to come, how these aspects... work their way through the portfolio.”
To help bring a sense of real luxury to the Infiniti line, Albaisa and his team harness the power of Infiniti’s partnership with Daimler. “When you open the door and look inside the S Class, you just see money. They’re doing a fantastic job of designing an interior that looks luxurious at a glance. So we’re using one of the S Class suppliers, because we want to understand this sense that they’re able to create in the interior. But also, we compete— so at the same time, you don't share so much.”