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Inside Out With the Designers of the 2016 Buick Avista Concept Car

04.15.16 | By
Inside Out With the Designers of the 2016 Buick Avista Concept Car

I didn’t expect to find myself enamored by a Buick. Yet, there I was at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year standing wide eyed in front of a concept coupe with an aggressively fluid exterior contrasted with a luminous interior. The show floor was abuzz with, “Did you see it?” comments, fingers pointing back toward the Buick Avista. I too found myself returning to orbit the deep electric blue exterior numerous times to peer ever closer, examining the details of the 2+2 coupe concept’s muscularity and an interior cabin defined by a perpendicular expanse of touchscreens. The Avista definitely made an impression.

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General Motors interior designers John McDougall, 29, and Aaron Stich, 28, were both standing nearby the show car, walking me around the car and offering observations about the continuous curvature of the Avista’s crouching profile, alongside the connected proportions of the Avista’s interior dash and airy seating in relation to the muscularity of the coupe’s exterior. The designers graciously offered me a closer peek inside, where I was able to get a better sense of the vehicle’s pared down technological aesthetic—a striking departure from Buick’s normally tastefully conservative executions—while sharing a bit of the backstory of the expedited process of ideation to proposal to the eventual sign-off of the Avista’s remarkable design.

Months later, I had an opportunity to follow up again with that initial conversation from the show, this time with Design Manager of Buick Exteriors, Chip Thole, alongside Creative Designer, Buick Interiors, Aaron Stich. I lobbed a few questions their way to learn more about why the Buick Avista looks nothing like any Buick I remember and how their team utilized a traditional artisan technique to sculpt the future of the company’s designs.

Buick Avista3

Used with permission from General Motors.

Could you tell us a few sources of inspiration – from Buick’s own history to sources outside the automotive industry – that helped shape the concept design to give us an idea of the vehicle’s DNA?

Buick’s DNA is sculptural beauty and innovation and working on the future Buick portfolio is the studio’s opportunity to explore the classic automotive beauty that drives designers into the business in the first place. The challenge is to combine visual innovation with timeless elegance.

As the Avenir concept expressed the prestige/elegance side of the portfolio, Avista is a concept to explore the dynamic/sport end of the portfolio.  The Avista builds on Buick’s rich history but in a very contemporary way. The new grille and wing element featured on the Avista and the all-new production LaCrosse was inspired by the 1954 Buick Wildcat show car to introduce the new progressive face of Buick.

Avenir Concept Flash Object

Inspiration is also found in nature. Think of air and water’s balance of exquisite sculptural form with inner strength and surface tension. Inside, the pattern on the Avista seats, console, doors were inspired by waves receding at the beach’s edge.

Copyright GM © 2014 All Rights Reserved Title

Used with permission from General Motors.

Watching the video and noting your team’s vocal commitment to clay modeling, could you tell us what benefits this tactile craft still offers that 3D modeling does not?

The digital and hand-sculpting team work hand-in-hand. The benefits of hand-sculpting are primarily the immediacy of visualizing the surface in 3D as well as the organic nature of the creation process working with a master sculptor. Working in math you have a translation from a 2D screen to the 3D after it is milled. In clay the 3D is immediate and iterations can be faster and more efficient.

The Avista has been quoted as being representative of capturing the spirit of the “perfect drive”. What does that exactly mean as represented by the design itself, in regards to both external and internal styling?

The exterior of Avista flows from start to finish, never stopping, and is filled with curves and sweet transitions of just the right speed and they are punctuated with the most elegantly fresh details that light the way forward. Inside, the interior is about creating a sense of well-being and minimizing distraction. A blend of flowing, uninterrupted lines and soft, comfortable leather with precise technical and surface details in keeping with Buick’s spirited pedigree. We are moving in a direction that feels more efficient and more dynamic – a flowing design that brings out the purity of the driving experience.

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My favorite exterior detailing are the headlamps and brake lights, both which portray a sculptural aggression complementing the low stance of the Avista. There seems a lot of attention was put into the exterior lighting. Was the shape in direction response to the lines of the car, or were there any adjustments to the body’s design?

The exterior design is a combination of Buick sculptural surfaces and signature graphics. We design the graphic elements as we are designing the surface, the two work together. The surfaces must enhance and support the graphics and vice versa.

The wing-shaped design forecasts the evolution of Buick’s production lighting features. Both front and rear lighting incorporates advanced technologies that permit the design to be crisper and leaner in their design — no longer just a pattern of light but a 3-dimensional light sculpture.

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The seats’ curvilinear profile hints it’s more than an aesthetic choice. How are the Avista seats different from auto seating available today?

The seats support Avista’s efficient, lightweight interior design. Their sculptural form, frame and profile are all designed to eliminate visual weight without compromising comfort or performance.

Photo: Used with permission, General Motors.

Used with permission from General Motors.

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The interior leaves an even more futuristic impression. What’s Buick’s vision in regards to ergonomics, connectivity and technology as referenced in this concept design?

Buick interiors are designed to create a sense of well-being. The simplicity of the interface by reducing complexity, minimizing distraction, and distilling what is needed in ways that make the driving experience effortless and intuitive. So, a sense of well-being is a part of the brand that we want to continue to explore including the hardware and software integration.

General Motors interior designers John McDougall and Aaron Stich.

General Motors interior designers John McDougall and Aaron Stich working out the details in clay. Used with permission from General Motors.

“We are really fortunate to work with such a talented team of sculptors.They brought the design to life in a way we never could have imagined; it was absolutely inspiring to see how they interpreted what we had done with pen and paper. This is what it’s like in the Buick studio right now, there’s so much energy, and everyone is itching to contribute. It’s fueling the creative renaissance of the brand.” – Aaron Stich, creative designer for Buick.

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Most of the driver and passenger controls seem to have migrated to touchscreen display controls. Where, how and why did designers decide about this switch from the physical to the digital? Was this a decision to declutter the cabin (because it did look refreshingly minimalist)?

We wanted the Avista to be very progressive in terms of the instrument panel design. Clean, uncluttered with technology all controlled from the fingertips. The reconfigurable wide-format display screen allows the driver to adjust the driving and infotainment information to their lifestyle and daily driving preference.

Buick Avista 4

Used with permission from General Motors.

Could you point out an external and internal detail that isn’t always evident upon quick glance, but you’re proud of as designers including in this concept design?

Outside, it is the secondary texture in the lamps. It is carved into the lamp lenses and catches light at certain angles. It is a graphic element that extends to the interior in the areas like the 3D-printed door and seat trim to the perforation pattern in the seats.

Buick Avista4

Used with permission from General Motors.

Why isn’t the Avista going to be evolved further from concept to a production car?

It’s been great to see the reception Avista has received at auto shows this year and the excitement it has generated for the Buick brand. Certain elements of the car’s design will undoubtedly appear on future production cars but we have many future product decisions to consider for our growing brand and we’re not ready to say what the future is for Avista itself.

A special thanks to John McDougall, Aaron Stich, and Chip Thole at General Motors/Buick.

Gregory Han is Tech Editor of Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.