interior designer john norman talks about the development, expectations, and influences of the 2015 acura NSX
images courtesy of acura





every since high school, john norman was determined to be a car designer for the rest of his life. with that spirit, he works at acura and heads the interior layout of the second generation supercar hybrid ’NSX’, which was introduced at the 2015 north american international auto show. he graduate from college for creative studies in detroit and has worked on many luxury cars for acura. with the japanese mid engined classic, john and michelle christensen had to find a balance between the iconic race car persona and the established luxury needs that the automotive brand is known for. designboom caught up with him to discuss his background, inspirations and the challenges in designing the ’NSX’ model. 



design boom (DB): what originally made you want to become a designer? 


john norman (JN): as a child i thought cars were incredibly cool. i loved the way they looked, how they felt and even how they smelled. i also loved to draw and made elaborate models of helicopters and boats of my own design out of legos. my parents never bought me the fancy lego kits they have today! i started drawing cars for fun around the sixth grade. sketching regular cars was boring so i started to draw my own designs. that was more fun. i didn’t know car design was a potential career until i was in high school and automobile magazine ran an article about the college for creative studies (CCS) in detroit. it included photos of car design sketches and models. i was blown away and decided right then that car design was what i wanted to do with my life.


DB: who / what has been the biggest influence on your work to date? 


JN: the first influence is other car designers that came before me. there has been so much great car design done over the last 100 years. we are all in their debt. old ferrari’s are very pretty. late 20’s and 30’s american cars are so beautiful and grand. a second influence would be movie design. the vehicle designs in star wars were a tremendous influence on me. watching those movies is when i first started to become aware that the world could be designed. the final influence would be nature and animals. what i do as a designer is only a crude imitation of the exquisite beauty of plants and animals found in the world. in particular i love sea life. the monterey bay aquarium is one of my favorite places in the world. the shapes, colors, patterns and extraordinary appearance of sea animals are almost unbelievable. i’ve spent hours there wandering around in wonder and amazement. 


DB: what was your first car and what was your dream car when growing up? 


JN: my first real car was a 1983 volkswagen scirocco. it was black on black with a five speed manual and i just loved it. i bought it for $800 with money i made working at the grocery store in the summer. it was always breaking and i loved working on it with a good friend. i would drive it from boston to detroit a few times a year during college. eventually the brutal detroit winters took their toll and it started looking rough. so I took off the bumpers and convinced some of my classmates at CCS to help me “paint” the car. we took leftover car paint we had from model making and went out behind the school at night to paint the car. the idea was that i would drive by and my classmates would throw paint on the car creating a bootleg jackson pollack effect. we were making a terrible mess when the cops showed up. they didn’t care about the street vandalism but instead advised we acquire firearms for our own personal safety. the car looked punk rock when it was finished and drew very different reactions. the normal people hated it, the skate punk kids thought it was rad!



DB: what were the toughest stages when designing the interior of the second generation acura NSX?


JN: the hardest part was when i joined the initial design team in our main studio in tokyo japan for four months. we were setting the design direction and communication was a big challenge. i learned that different cultures have very different ideas about what a supercar should be. i think in the end we were able to find common ground. tokyo is an amazing city and i have some great friends there but at times you can feel lost. one of my favorite memories was when work was cancelled for the day due to a typhoon. the rain and wind was blowing so hard it was literally knocking men over in the street. 


DB: could you describe the personality of the NSX’s interior and how you were able to establish it? 


JN: the interior personality of the NSX is serious, performance driven, precise and luxuriously crafted. we worked hard to find that balance of no nonsense pure sports car functionality while make it alluring and sexy at the same time. that required a lot of sketching, high level communication and imagination. it wasn’t easy!


DB: how were you able to translate the exterior design into the interior, and also ensure that the inside lived up to expectations first perceived, when viewing the outside?  


JN: the NSX interior design wasn’t considered in that fashion. while there was an overall NSX project concept we have separate interior and exterior design concepts. the needs and customer expectations of both are very different. the interior design of the NSX was focused on high speed vehicle control and function. the performance requirements are severe and demanded a thoughtful approach. while the new NSX is a very high performance car it also needs to be luxurious and comfortable to be in. our interior design concept was the human support cockpit. our goal was to create an interior that helped you drive at the limit of the NSX’s considerable performance while also being somewhere you could spend quality time.

top view of the hybrid supercar


DB: how does a new project evolve? does the interior design follow on from the exterior or is it inspired from other influences? 


JN: the interior and exterior designs are developed simultaneously. we both have our separate influences and inspiration. ultimately they both must join to create one vehicle. that’s where the fighting comes in.

DB: how do acura’s interiors keep up with developing technologies such as infotainment centers, connectivity and augment reality, and what did you want to include for this NSX? 


JN: you will be seeing more and more cutting edge technologies in acura interiors going forward. for the NSX the interior technology application is subtle. in effect we wanted the interior of the car to vanish when driving at speed. we worked hard to minimize distractions and anything unnecessary. we wanted the focus to be on a pure and enjoyable sports car driving experience. 



DB: if acura were to develop a third-generation, what would be some key features and technologies that you would expect the interior to include? 


JN: a third generation NSX would continue with the packaging (how people fit in and see out of, operate, etc.) excellence of the original and second generation. i think we would use technology to make it seem like there is less technology. in a way like what apple does with their products. the technology would be used to create a seamless and easy user experience. 


DB: what are you passionate about besides your work? 


JN: i love music and going to movies. i am always humbled and inspired by the work of great musicians and filmmakers. i love that the best music and film is something you can experience again and again and still learn something new, experience a different feeling. i truly enjoy their contributions to the world of art and experience.


DB: what’s your personal motto? 


JN: i don’t have a motto but more of a life purpose. i am thankful for this amazing world i was born into. i am thankful for all of the hard work many smart and talented people put into making this world better many times at their mortal peril. clothing, shelter, astronomy, electric light, airplanes, space travel, television, personal computers, modern medicine, the internet….the list is literally endless. if i can, in whatever small way through car design, contribute to that great legacy of advancement i will consider myself fortunate and my life well spent.