Published on April 15th, 2016 | by Subhash Nair


How PROTON Designs to an International Standard

The way a car looks is just as crucial to its appeal as the way it drives. Even though the consensus seems to be that design is a subjective matter, few can deny the fact that there are clear examples of good designs out there in the motoring world. But of course good design isn’t that difficult to achieve when you throw a lot of money at the problem.

What about mass market cars? Here things get extremely complex as margins and budgets are far smaller. Furthermore, cars that sell in the tens of thousands need to appeal to a broad audience while being unique enough to convey a strong sense of identity. For Azlan Othman, PROTON’s Chief of Design, overcoming these obstacles comes down to having established principles, a skilled team and of course, the right tools.


At PROTON’s Design wing, all three come together to shape cars that Malaysians can be proud of, whether they come to own one or not. The company’s designs have been steadily improving ever since its first car, the Waja, was made. The Suprima S and Preve are great examples of the kind of work carried out by the team but their undisputed masterpiece is of course the Iriz. It’s not the prettiest car ever made, but it certainly shows how a relatively small player in the industry can deliver a universally acclaimed design.

For a car as well sorted, priced and equipped as the Iriz, most of the praise it gets is from the way it looks. In fact, it has been awarded ‘Best Industrial Design 2015’ by Intellectual Property Corporation and the ‘Malaysia Good Design Mark Award 2014’ from the Malaysia Design Council. We spoke to Mr Azlan about how PROTON approaches design to find out the secret of their success.


“We have plenty of advanced tools here of course, from Wacom tablets for each of our designers to a what is essentially a huge 3D Scanner/Printer that allows to both create prototypes within the facility as well as reverse engineer competing designs to learn new things. Having these tools allows us to minimise cost as most of the initial changes to the final design can be done virtually given how much detail the software lets us see on screen,” he explained.

PROTON’s Design department is indeed one that is properly equipped for the task at hand. There’s even an area called ‘The Hall’ that employs some of the latest lighting and multimedia technology to help management make important design decisions. It’s an extremely impressive facility, especially when you consider that PROTON is Malaysian through and through. But Azlan insist that it’s the Malaysians behind the process that are the real stars of the show.


Their work is guided by the four pillars of design that shape each and every one of our products since 2005. These are Proportions, Surfacing, Posture and Details. The first of these is perhaps the easiest to understand. To a large degree, the type of car you build dictates the general shape – but understanding Proportions allows the team to decide on the subtler things that influence the finsl product. It’s closely related to Posture – which deals with how the design sits when placed on actual wheels. Posture can convey things like a sense of stability which is usually only felt on a more subconscious level.

Template BHP

Surfacing is just as important of course, Here the team examines how the material and finish influences the experience of the final product. This is the part of design work most closely related to the customer experience as the touch & feel heavily influences the perceived quality.

Finally, there’s the Details. Get them right and there’s design harmony. Get it wrong and everyone notices that something isn’t quite right. This can be the most difficult part of design as small changes can pose large technical challenges.

Proton-Iriz cabin

Take the Perdana’s new front grille for instance. Smack in the centre sits PROTON’s new logo. To most eyes, the biggest change here is the omission of the company’s name but take a closer look and it’s clear the design team have gone the extra mile. The tiger’s head and the ring surrounding it are crafted in 3D, with every graceful, natural bulge and depression painstakingly brought to life in chrome.


“Usually when you see chrome on cars, it’s gone through a process called ‘chrome-dipping’. It wouldn’t have worked for the logo, as it would be impossible to capture the sharp but minute details,” he eloborated.

Instead of using the traditional method, PROTON used a process that involved physically stamping the chrome film onto the substrate using pressure. “This allowed us to really flesh out our work and add value for the customer at the same time.”

Goodyear eagle 650x85(DSF)

It’s exactly this kind of dedication to the job that leads to great designs like the one on the Iriz. PROTON’s design team have been instrumental in elevating the brand’s status. In terms of progress, few car companies can claim to have achieved since its first car a decade ago, and for that we ought to be proud of what they have accomplished.

About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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