Since partnering with Geely, PROTON Design has become part of a global network of studio. With access to more resources than ever, PROTON design chief, Azlan Othman has been entrusted with the task of crafting PROTON’s new visual identity, while maintaining the brand’s Malaysian heritage.

Tucked away in its own building within the compounds of the PROTON Shah Alam manufacturing plant in Malaysia, is the PROTON Design studio. Since the partnership with Geely was formed in 2017, the studio has become part of the Geely Design network of studios that are scattered across the world, including design studios in Shanghai, Gothenburg, Barcelona, California and Coventry. PROTON Design was established concurrently with the carmaker’s formation in the 1980’s, and has only been recently integrated into the larger Geely Design family. The new relationship works both ways; PROTON Design now has access to more resources than ever before, enabling them to learn new global design ideas and concepts, whilst Geely Design benefits from their Malaysian colleagues’ extensive years of experience in the field, as well as exposure to a refreshingly new design language.

Heading the PROTON Design team is Azlan Othman, who has been in the company for the past 23 years. For him, one of the more exciting perks he enjoys when Geely came on board was the chance to collaborate on so many levels. He and the rest of the team are now able to share new ideas and visions with learned colleagues from all over the world, learn new cultures, and adapt preexisting design elements from the wider Geely family, hence empowering them to push not only their own personal boundaries, but that of PROTON’s as well. His colleagues in Geely has also fully entrusted him to steer the ship in crafting PROTON’s new visual identify, with full support whenever he needs it from the global Geely Design team.

PROTON Chief Designer, Azlan Othman (Left) with Head of Geely Design China, Guy Burgoyne (Right)

One of the first tasks was giving the Proton X70 SUV, which is based on the Geely Bo Yue, a complete Malaysian makeover. A monumental task, as it will set the precedent for future models and shift the public’s general perception towards PROTON’s design credentials. There is no denying that the base vehicle was designed by Geely, but a lot of work and effort have been injected by the PROTON Design team to give the Proton X70 a different, yet local look.

A key guiding principle Azlan applied when working on the re-design phase is to make maximum change with minimum investment, with special attention given to Malaysia-nise the more prevalent Chinese elements within the car. Besides, time was also of the essence when embarking on this new mission, resulting in limited change content. The team had less than one year to establish a new design identity, re-design key exterior and interior features of the Geely Bo Yue into the Proton X70, send the design through a multi-layered approval process, not to mention prototyping and conducting numerous rounds of testing before production can be green lit in time for its December 2018 launch.

Malaysia is the only Southeast Asian country with its homegrown domestic car brands that are both designed and manufactured locally. Azlan and his team saw the existential opportunity of designing something truly indigenous against the country’s rich cultural backdrop, thus setting the Proton X70 apart from its Geely cousins. The design itself shouldn’t be attributed to a particular race, religion or culture, but something common that can be found within all of them. On that note, the team started looking back at the country’s long history and study the various elements of multiple ethnic groups that form the foundation of the local culture. The design team were then able to craft a generic identity can be recognized as being truly Malaysian.

After extensively looking at words, images, sculptures and patterns, the team then decided that the front and centre piece of the car will take the shape of a traditional recurve bow, a weapon that is omnipresent across many of the races and tribes found in Malaysia. Azlan said that the bow was chosen as the weapon represents energy, the same force that is generated by an actual bow when an archer knocks and releases an arrow to hit its mark. By placing the shape of an intensified object at the front of the car, it tends to illustrate a powerful projection, adding a certain ‘twang’ to it. Later christened as the Ethereal Bow, the shape has now been carried forward to the facelift models that have thus far been released in 2019, forming the basis of PROTON’s new design identity.

The other significant local feature of PROTON’s latest design identity is the Infinite Weave, derived from a timeless form of art that exudes the affection Malaysians have towards excellent craftsmanship. According to Azlan, this inspiration came by looking at related pattern from the past, which could be modernized for the future. For this, the team looked at old architectures and various prints, such as the batik, each of which has a distinctive way of expressing artistry.

By applying this to vehicle design, it exemplifies that apart from adding a regional touch to the car, PROTON is giving more attention to the finer details. Never before has such intricate work been applied to a PROTON car, adding to the overall quality of the produced vehicle while demonstrating a wholly improved level of workmanship.

On both the Ethereal Bow and Infinite Weave, Azlan concluded that these are evolutionary identifiers; its design and application will evolve over time, but will always be present and largely dependent upon the overall size, shape and identity of the car itself. For example, the shape of the Ethereal Bow on the new Proton Iriz takes a different form than the ones on the Proton X70 and other facelift models, and while the Proton X70 carries three horizontal bars, the other facelifts have only two. This is a show of synergy with what Geely does with its own Expanding Cosmos, which can be seen taking on innovative forms on the Geometry A and on the newer Geely Auto models such as the Geely Bin Yue and Geely Xing Yue.

Another change made to PROTON’s new breed of vehicles can be found at the rear. For the past 30 years, PROTON has always placed its logo at the back. The Proton X70 revolutionized that concept by emblazoning the PROTON name instead, and this new trend was quickly adopted by the subsequent facelift models that follow. Azlan explained that this was a halo effect from Volvo, who has always displayed their names in the rear, and that having such similarities with one of the top and safest cars in the world can yield a positive image for PROTON. And as a designer, Azlan said that one should be bold enough to proudly embellish the brand’s name in all its glory.