Car interior design is far more complicated than you'd think.
To deliver a positive in-car experience, Toyota's interior designers go the extra mile - even if that means wearing fake nails. Hiromi Yagi, Assistant Manager for Lexus Design Division, told Toyota Times that his team uses fake nails to ensure individuals don't scuff their perfect manicures when operating the controls.
Car design is a complex process, but developing a harmonious and user-friendly interior is just as daunting - if not tougher. We spend most of our time inside a vehicle, and while exterior style is important, it's pointless without a well-sorted cabin.
"We put ourselves in the shoes of the woman who cares about her nails," said the design manager. "When you look at it from the perspective of not wanting to damage those nice nails, you understand what angle a dial needs to be, which doesn't come across in size simulations alone."
Toyota obsesses over the details to make sure that nothing as seemingly insignificant as a manicure will affect how ergonomic its cars are. And there's more.
The obsession goes beyond superficial things like fancy nails. The team also wears special knee braces that immobilize joints, giving designers an idea of what it's like for physically challenged or elderly drivers when entering and exiting a car. Special eyeglasses are used to emulate those who struggle to see shades of red. This is important, as the hazard lights need to be visible to everyone.
"We consider all kinds of user needs, seeking to balance stylish looks with usability for many different customers," remarked Yagi.
When it came to designing the cabin of the new Lexus RZ, he noted the team opted for a "simple is best" ethos. As an electric vehicle, there's no engine to take up precious cabin space. Yagi took this as an opportunity to create a "new spatial configuration focusing on the doors."
As a result, the RZ boasts an uncluttered interior. This leads to a feeling of space and airiness. But as a luxury car, it is still required to have beautiful detailing, seen on the steering wheel and the gauges.
What resembles an amalgam of animal bones is, in fact, the way Lexus designs seats for its vehicles. According to the automaker, it's the seat that has changed the most in terms of interior evolution. Modern cars have heating, ventilation, and massage functions, not to mention myriad safety features to keep occupants safe.
"This is a car seat frame made using a design method known as generative design, which has attracted much attention in recent years," explained Shinsuke Omori. "We input aspects such as the size of the space, the weight of the seated person, and forces during impact into the software, then 3D-print the generated design."
Of course, these peculiar methods are nothing new. We've all heard the stories of various automakers and their idiosyncrasies. It is said that, when designing the original LS 400, Lexus employed a man to touch every button to ensure it was damped correctly. Volvo reportedly designed the first-generation XC90 to have interior switches and buttons that could be operated while wearing gloves.
No story about ridiculous standards would be complete without including the Germans. When designing the W204 generation Mercedes C-Class, engineers reportedly designed every button to travel exactly 0.035 inches when pushed.
Interesting tidbits aside, the interior is becoming more important in the electric era. Ford's Anthony Lo wants to rethink the interior as a whole and envisions cabins that are both immersive, entertaining, and customizable.