Can automotive lighting take on an iconic art form? Meet Senior Creative Manager Brian Oh and Senior Designer Arash Badeanlou, two key members of the design team responsible for shaping the face and identity of FF 91 through innovative lighting solutions.
FINDING THE LIGHT
Designing automotive lighting has its distinct challenges. Creating an icon and a signature for a brand-new automotive mobility startup is a career-defining mission. After stints working in design at well-known car companies, both Badeanlou and Oh arrived at FF ready for a challenge and a change of pace. They were pleasantly surprised by the amount of freedom they had to design with abandon “I didn’t realize how artistic FF was going to be,” Badeanlou said, after almost a decade working in California for Hyundai Design North America. “It’s a dream to be somewhere like FF, a brand-new startup, because there aren’t any legacies or codes that you have to adhere to,” Oh said. “It’s all from scratch. You’re creating everything from the ground level up, from branding, establishing form identity, to the execution of the product itself.”
The lighting design team had a relatively strict brief with open-ended opportunities. The lights needed to communicate, not just illuminate. They should be LEDs. They should look and be aerodynamic, to complement the incredible power and range of the 1050 hp FF 91. And the lights should take on the status of a modern icon. Despite the quick pace required to bring FF 91 to market, and the challenge of creating truly extraordinary form language, the FF design team respects tried and true practices. Oh’s process always begins with “traditional pen and paper,” before any digital renderings commence.
“Sheetmetal is sheetmetal and wheels are wheels, but the lighting is the gateway to the technology of the car.”
“One sketch,” he said, “can quickly lead to CAD production.” “Every proposal you create has a very high probability of being built, so every design needs to be special,” Oh said. “As a car designer, you always attempt to make the product a piece of art. In that sense, it’s always a part of our job, making the lighting or the design of the car just that – a piece of art.”
TURNING TO ARCHITECTURAL INSPIRATION
Badeanlou looked to examples in modern architecture for influence to define the look of FF 91’s headlights. “When I was working with Brian to design these lights, [the charge was]: break from tradition, think outside the box, and create lamps that showcase the advanced tech of FF 91,” he said. That led to FF 91’s signature stacked headlamps, each of which Badeanlou described as “a cube of ice,” as part of a larger shape. “Most cars have lamps or projectors that are round or squircles, that emulate eyes, and that’s pretty standard, but we created this architectural design that was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, Fallingwater,” Badeanlou explained. “That cascading look, in itself, made it feel different. You see it right away from the lights.” Like Fallingwater’s stacked design, FF 91’s L-shaped projector lights—flat on the outside, curved slightly, with the projectors inside the lens—look like transparent blocks.
The idea for the crystal taillights came about through similar thinking. The multi-functional, thin strip of light that spans the width of the car became a non-traditional way to incorporate the FF logo.
“We decided to integrate the FF pattern into the space below the strip lighting,” Oh said. “It ended up being really dramatic and beautiful: something you’ve never seen before. Because of the compact, compressed nature of our lamps, and how much we pushed and challenged regulations, the crystals had to become a functional element. They’re aesthetic as well as fully functional. They serve dual purposes.”
THOUSANDS OF POINTS OF LIGHT
Entrusted with telling the story of FF 91 from the first visual impression, Oh and Badeanlou wanted their design to speak for the extraordinary product. “We wanted to communicate that there was special technology packed inside, and we could do that with the lights,” Badeanlou said. “Sheetmetal is sheetmetal and wheels are wheels, but the lighting is the gateway to the technology of the car.” “It was always an exercise in restraint,” Oh said. “We wanted to keep things as simple as possible to reflect the advanced nature of the product. Lighting was an integral part of that.” That’s why FF 91 employs emotive LEDs on the exterior to communicate with the user, as well as other drivers and cars on the road, displaying charge status and autonomous driving modes, and distinguishing FF 91 from a distance. As for just how many LEDs are ensconced within FF 91? Badeanlou’s best guess is in the high thousands. “I remember the lighting team telling me there are around 10,000 LEDs inside FF 91,” Oh said.
From a distance, the most telling sign that FF 91 is not like any other vehicle is the lit-up “grille,” which comprises the FF logo in a parametric pattern. Designers worked with CAD engineers to program algorithms to fade the motif and light it up to reflect what FF 91 is communicating. “The fascia lighting was the result of us trying to come up with a solution for a grille—without an actual grille,” Oh said. The rocker panels and door cladding also utilize the hidden-until-lit system that conceals the LEDs when not in use. An industry first, FF 91’s side lighting will be functional, aesthetic, and communicative. “An established car company might have a team of 20 to 30 designers working specifically on lighting,” Oh explained. At FF, Badeanlou does the work of many. “Even with limited resources, we’re going to compete with the big boys,” Oh said.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Rather than focus their efforts on a concept with no chance of production, from the beginning, FF designers and engineers worked steadily toward developing a road-ready work of art. “Anything that looked off the shelf, like it was available today, was not an option. It had to be forward-thinking. It had to be advanced,” Oh said. Working jointly, FF engineers and designers created a truly global solution, adhering to the varying regulations specified by countries where FF 91 will be sold. They were required to work within the constraints of current federal motor vehicle safety standards and regulations, but they saw them as a jumping-off point for innovation, and not a roadblock. “You have to be meeting current requirements, while forecasting what could be required in the future,” Badeanlou said. “When engineering and design play nice, we end up with beautiful, innovative solutions,” Oh said.
THE FUTURE BECKONS
As FF 91 progresses closer to production, the designers’ work is hardly complete. Oh and Badeanlou envision “tablet-style lighting” as a signature design cue for FF. “If you’re driving down the 405 and you look in your rearview mirror and see an FF product behind you, it’s unmistakable,” Oh said. “There’s no question about it.”
Brian Oh (shown on right)]
Education: ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, Calif.
Has also worked at: Honda, Volkswagen Audi Group, Honda Advanced Design
Influenced by: The Pininfarina Modulo
[Arash Badeanlou (shown on left)]
Education: Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Calif.
Has also worked at: Nine years at Hyundai Design North America
Influenced by: Modern architecture