A portrait of Kyehyun Ahn.

The art of Zen in the Nissan Ariya

How an interior color designer infused the Zen philosophy into the Nissan Ariya

The Ariya not only reimagines what an electric vehicle could be but how people should feel when driving it. Everything from the zero-gravity seats to the horizontal, dual information displays were designed for comfort and ergonomics. But when it came to eliciting a sense of inner tranquility, it was color designer Kyehyun Ahn’s job to find the perfect combination of color and materials.

The designer came to Japan from Korea four years ago but had been studying the Zen influence on design long before she arrived. “While studying design in college, I moved away from shape and toward color to see how it influences mood in an intuitive, almost subliminal way,” Ahn explains. “The Ariya was my first chance to explore taking a Zen approach to not only color, but how it coordinated with interior materials.” This path was a natural progression as Ahn embraced Nissan’s newly established Japanese DNA (J-DNA) design language. She was enthusiastic to incorporate concepts such as Ma, Iki, Kabuku or Omotenashi into her own Ariya work.

Learn more about the concepts of J-DNA


This journey led Ahn to try some unique color combinations that initially raised a few eyebrows within her team. “I tend to pick the main color from a source image, like an initial render and then add the unexpected with a complementary color to build an interesting story.” That’s how she paired the blue-gray leather of the Ariya with copper accents – colors considered polar opposites. She saw the copper as a “kick” to heighten the visual impact. “Some colleagues weren’t comfortable with the combination right away, but I was confident that it would bring something very unique and beautiful to the interior, so I pushed for it.”


Her tenacity paid off when friends and colleagues saw the finished product last summer at the global unveil. “It was unreal for me,” Ahn recalls. “Their enthusiasm and the feedback online continues to fill me with excitement and pride.”

Outsiders may appreciate the final result, but they likely don’t fully comprehend the amount of work that goes into color selection. Ahn and the larger team not only studied a variety of colors and materials, but also how the cabin space looked in natural light. “We always check color selections outside in the sun, even at different times of the day. A color can significantly shift between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.” Ahn explains. That led to multiple rounds of refinements before final selections were made.

This thoroughness has sometimes led designer’s to completely change their assumptions on a color. Take for example the intricate Kumiko pattern found in several areas in the lower part of the interior, including the doors. “Originally, we had chosen a lighter color to accentuate this roomier feeling of the interior. But that made the Kumiko pattern visually too busy.” Eventually they decided on black, which not only solved this but added a sophisticated feeling as well.

The thought of a “busy” interior countered the Zen philosophy Ahn and the team were after for the Ariya. “By eliminating clutter, a Zen-like interior can provide a kind of ‘perfect comfort’ for the physical and inner self,” Ahn says. The haptic buttons hidden behind the wood grain of the dashboard are also a great example of this, cleanly integrating these direct touchpoints into the minimalistic feel of the cabin.

As vehicles adapt to new types of powertrains and high levels of driver assistance, the effort behind the interior’s own sense of Zen will only become more important. It will become paramount to shield the driver and occupants from an ever-increasing level of technology, allowing for intuitive control and functionality without clutter. This minimalistic mindset will be key as we edge onwards to a new era of mobility.