Styling exteriors through experience and passion

Yuji Fujiwara
Exterior Designer

At Work

Ideas need nurturing

I've been working in exterior design for 25 years now. Nowadays, I'm the one who nurtures the ideas and coordinates the projects. After deciding on an idea, we form a team with the clay modelers, and both experienced and younger team members all work together to create a three-dimensional model at actual size. If you make the first sketches too realistic then you tend to get bogged down in detail and you lose sight of the essence of the idea. So we start off with a major objective, something which we say mustn't get lost, a kind of vital point, and we convey this core idea to the clay modelers both verbally and via sketches. The modelers are our partners. The designer can conceive the image and the basic form, but of course the person who takes a three-dimensional model and uses their expertise to bring it up to an advanced level is the clay modeler. After the modeler has made what the designer has conveyed, the designer needs to take a step back and appraise it coolly without being taken over by his or her own idea. The designer mustn't start fiddling with the model or get too involved either. Ideas are like human personalities, they turn out best when the entire team helps to nurture them. It's all about working together to nurture an idea that until blossoms.

10 years: time to fade or to mature

My thoughts on what makes a good idea have changed since I was younger. In those days I was keen and full of original ideas on how to make a smart product. But after all a car is not just another bargain commodity. So recently, I have begun to think of a truly good idea as being one that doesn't fade after 10 years. When we were working on the second-generation Vitz, a European designer had an original idea that impressed me because it was incredibly dynamic and powerful. But to my Japanese mind, it was also a little disconcerting. Perhaps you could say it was too direct. Perhaps you could say they were too direct. I wanted to give the styling more depth. A car should reflect an inner power, in the profile of the door and the character lines. All the elements of the styling should be fresh and vital so that energy radiates out from the inside of the car. A car should have a solid axis at its core that is unshakeably grounded. There are a lot of customers who use a compact car for many years, so that is why I think compact cars should be made to mature in character.

Taking shape takes time

At the initial stage, we don't have a clear picture of the final image or the goal we want to achieve. You have to give your best effort at each stage and until you have completed it you can't see what the next step is going to be. Through repetition of this process, the model gradually takes shape. This process is not about messing with the model, but about refining it into a purer form. At the same time you invest it with quality and depth. I suppose it's a process of adding some and taking some away. One of Toyota's strengths is careful attention. We want to make the product better and better. We watch over it and nurture it like devoted parents, even though that may sound difficult with an industrial product. The process goes from sketch to model to blueprints and then to trial production. Our job is to produce quality blueprints. No matter how successful you are in making the clay model, if the results don't carry through to the blueprints, there's no point. So everything leading up to that stage has to be done properly. That means making sure you get your bit right before you pass the work on to the next stage. I think that seeing that process through to the last is where we experienced designers come into our own. You can work to pass expertise on to the younger staff, but whether they progress or not depends on their own attitude. However, I want to keep on working for the rest of my life, if I have the stamina. Working clay takes some strength, you know!

Personal Time

Staying natural

When you're young you're filled with the desire to see your own ideas through. In every aspect of your work, you're full of aspirations. As you get older things change. You're not so bothered about what fashion is doing or what looks good. You are more interested in making a product that is comfortable and reliable. If you spend all your time thinking about work, though, you get stressed out. If you're always having to stop and listen to the people around you, you become short-sighted and your ability to make good judgments diminishes. When that happens you can't see the way forward and lose direction. So recently, I have been trying to make sure that at work when I concentrate, I really concentrate, and when I'm not at work and relaxing, I really relax. For me, surfing is the time when I really wind down. It's not struggling against nature, but the feeling of surrendering my body to the great force of nature. It seems to reset my mental equilibrium and make me take things easier. It gives me a kind of mental space. And so when I go back to work, because I have that composure, I can see the whole picture again. Perhaps staying natural is the best way to be.

Design — the starting point for thinking green

Since I started surfing, I've become very aware of the weather charts and temperatures. That's because they have a great impact on how the waves are. Recently, it has been quite warm. Especially in winter, I've noticed that it doesn't feel as cold as it used to when I come out of the surf. It's not a direct parallel, but when I'm thinking about a design, in one corner of my mind I'm always aware of one question: What can we do for the natural environment at the design stage? Improving fuel efficiency with a design that emphasizes aerodynamic performance and using recyclable materials is one measure. From the perspective of design, thinking about the environment means designing cars that people will use for a long time and not grow tired of. That's the conclusion I've come to. My efforts may not have an immediate effect, but I intend to go on thinking about it. It's important to keep on trying new ideas. Giving up part way through can only result in the status quo.

Clearing one hurdle at a time

It's only a few seasons since I took up surfing in earnest, so I still haven't made much progress. To go surfing, first of all you have to peddle out to the break, but that can be unexpectedly difficult. Once you're out there, then you have to get the timing right to catch a wave. It's a matter of trial and error, where you have to overcome the problems that come along one after another. But there's a certain appeal to taking on such challenges. Actually, that applies to some extent to exterior design too. First, you have an idea. Then you create an appealing three-dimensional form. At the same time, you have to meet fundamental design requirements that allow a car to perform as it is intended. For every stage of the idea, there are a whole bunch of things you have to think about, such as measuring it against the original concept and customer needs. When you have cleared each one of these hurdles, the original idea takes concrete shape. It's 25 years since I became a designer, but the feeling of achievement when I've cleared a hurdle is still the same.


  • Simon Humphries
    General Manager

  • Yuji Fujiwara
    Exterior Designer

  • Akira Matsuda
    Clay Modeler

  • Masaki Motozaki

  • Kazuo Horibe
    Wood Modeler

  • Keiko Shishido
    Color Designer