Published: 02nd August 2018
The Albaisa story: From a Miami ghetto to designing Nissan's cutting-edge cars
Nissan's global design head Alfonso Albaisa talks about his origins, not driving a car and why being a designer is as stable as being an engineer
This story begins in Miami, 48 years ago. This is not the glamorous side of Miami that you've seen in the Enrique videos. The city also has its ghettos where thousands of refugees from Cuba and Mexico struggled to live. Alfonso Albaisa lived there as a little boy. On his way to elementary school, he religiously stopped by his father's design studio on the way. The studio, which was an old house in the middle of the Miami jungle, had a model of the city with all its freeways and buildings. Little Albaisa loved playing with it. He'd create little wood boats and let them glide through the roads.
One such day, he heard an unusual sound. He'd never heard something of that sort in his life. He rushed to the road to see what that was. The source of the sound was a Jaguar convertible. Pitch black, while that beauty made her way through the ghettos, the fierce Miami sun decided to cast his spots on her through the leaves and branches. "I'd never seen anything like this before. The moment, I saw that (car) I fell in love with it and drew it every day. I never saw it again for a long time after that," says Albaisa, who is now the Senior Vice President of Global Design for global car giant Nissan. This sight from childhood that is still pristine in his memory is probably the reason why he thinks he opted to be an automobile designer. He was at the Chennai Public School on Tuesday, for a brainstorming session with high school students on the topic 'Roots of Design'.
Designing future: Albaisa with the students of Chennai Public School
Why designers are as cool as engineers
“Designers will play a key role in what the future looks like, not just in the auto industry, but across industries like technology, infrastructure, electronics, consumer durables etc. Through Roots of Design, we are opening the doors to the world of design and the numerous opportunities it offers for aspiring students across the globe," Albaisa told the enthusiastic students who kept on shooting questions at the design master. Patiently, Albaisa answered all of them.
The High School fixation
Post the session, he tells us that every time he goes on a business trip, he makes it a point to visit a high school and talk to the students about taking up design as a career. Is there a reason behind this? Definitely yes. The story dates back to the 60's in Miami, a little after the Cuban revolution. The backlash of the situation was ugly. The immigrant issue was going out of hands. Albaisa saw his family struggle through it. "As kids, people my age watched our parents suddenly lose their jobs. My uncle was a senator with a law degree. One day, he had to start working at a gas station. I saw them fight, struggle and work hard. I had that (struggle) very much inside of me," he recalls. Albaisa, who was the weakest among his smart siblings worked very hard, in order to have a better life growing up. Art was his constant companion and his mother supported him.
Growing up in the ghetto
"When I was in high school, I didn't know what I wanted to be. That is why I come to these schools. Because all I knew was that, at this age, I was afraid. I was sure that I'll be a failure and that will be quick and hard," he says, adding, "There are so many advantages that kids these days have. I'm sure I had learning difficulties. Now, these kids could identify these. When I talk to students, I make it a point to talk to them about my issues." He also says that people his age should stop worrying about themselves and concentrate on creating better assets out of children.
Designing is part fashion, part engineering and chasing what people want. even when the envelope is shrinking, people are in love with these big cars
Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice President for Global Design for Nissan Motor Co, Ltd
While most people worry about their child not being able to create a stable profession with the help of an art degree, Albaisa thinks that that thought is futile. "This whole thing about arts not being a sustainable life happens in every family. Life as a designer is as secure as an engineer. The bonus is happiness. Hopefully, you find content," he says.
You don't have to be Japanese to design a Nissan
Albaisa had quite a lot too share about the world of Automobile design too. He is the first non-Japanese design head for Nissan, or for any Japanese automobile company for that matter. "I started reflecting on me not being Japanese. I started studying the company's history. Today, I know all about it," he says. He also adds that his responsibility as a human being is to help kids who are struggling the same way as he did when he was a kid.
Now, we couldn't hide our curiosity to find out what car Albaisa drove. The answer definitely surprised us. "Nothing. I don't drive," he said. "I don't drive because I'm exhausted. I'm stuck half in reality and half in my studio. The thing I have in my studio is always better, but unfortunately, I can't drive my clay model," he signs off.