#TheTalks – Porsche Designer Pinky Lai

Pinky Lai launching new book “Ideation” with revolutionary Porsche, BMW, and Ford original design hand sketches

Pinky Lai, a name that is familiar to sports car lovers. Lai is an automotive designer, currently working at Porsche AG as a design consultant. Being responsible for the exterior designs of both Porsche Boxster and Cayman, he is also the designer of the original Boxster and 911 (996 series). Due to retire from Porsche in 2014, Lai will display sketches of his groundbreaking designs and concepts in the run-up to 2013 Venice Biennale art exhibition.


From Hong Kong to Rome

Born in 1951 in Hong Kong, Lai was adventurous enough to leave everything behind and go to Rome in 1972, with a one-way ticket. Having a hope to find an architectural school, he was lucky enough to get a space but there were serious shortage of teachers back then. “They were under-staffed. Students in the crowded hall kept waiting every class for the professor to come in, but it’s always the secretary showing up to tell us he’s sick or he’s off. I had enough of that and fortunately my girlfriend in Italy back then found a relatively new design school.” Being the only foreigner in the design school, Lai started his design journey in a tough way – forcing himself to learn a completely new language at the same time. After graduation, Ford offered him a 2-year scholarship in Royal College of Art in London and he joined Ford in Germany afterwards and started his language learning all over again.


What is Hong Kong to you?

“I haven’t spoken Cantonese for nearly 30 years!” said Lai, “For me, the name Hong Kong is symbolic. All my roots are gone, I don’t recognize anything apart from the language. I don’t have any contacts here anymore.” He has been re-visiting Hong Kong every few months last year and gained a lot of support from friends to start in here again.


How do you feel about designing?

“After 30 years of being a slave for the car industry, finally I get a sweet taste of freedom spiritually. It’s really good looking back at the enjoyable times,” Lai has undergone hundreds of late nights working on tough design projects with a challenging package provided by the technical team. When it comes to design, he doesn’t rely on inspirations, “Inspirations are quite an abstract thing.I feel inspired, not necessarily by a certain idea. I may get inspired by a kind person, or good spirit, but that does not have anything to do with design a lot. It lights up the kind of energy for me to go further.”

“Car design is different from product design, their product life cycle might be only 1-2 years but for cars in Porsche terms would be 5-7 years. The moment you see a new car hitting the road, it’s already old to us. We are one cycle ahead, so we don’t really need that kind of direct inspirations. All we have to do is to see what is on the road, and we will know what will happen next.”


How do you start your designs?

“I’m always the last one to start sketching among the team. I do a lot of mental sketching, trying to create a certain Polaroid image in the mind. I sketch according to my vision in the head.” Lai shared his distinctive way of thinking as a true designer. “I don’t experiment with sketching. A lot of designers might get something nice accidentally by doing that.” He taught his students a logical and direct way to think – figure out various possible combinations within the given limitations. “I make a list of the design features, the proportions and geometry of the details before I start sketching.”


Advise for designers

“No matter what branch of design you do, always trace back what has been done, and ask yourself why are you going from there to somewhere else. What is the message? What do you want to say with your new design? It needs to be very visible.”

The latest works of Lai is showcased at “Design & Styling“.


The Book “Ideation”

The Hong Kong native was in town for a preview of some of the original design hand sketches, which are also being presented in a book “ Ideation“. Releasing early this year, the book is a window on more than 30 years of Lai‘s work at Ford, BMW and Porsche. It includes sketches of his redesign of the iconic 911, which won him many awards.

The exhibition will take place from April 15 to May 14 at The Arsenal gallery in Venice and will coincide with the Italian regatta of the America’s Cup World Series. The book can be pre-ordered here.

As a daughter of an entrepreneur and being one herself, Grace has lived and learned all sides of creating and growing businesses. She is excited to bring all that life experience as well as 7 years of crafting content to G Edition, her very own edition of experience sharing in work and travel. She is a full-time bag designer and manufacturer, part-time traveler, and a lover of creative crafts.


  • Reply July 9, 2013

    Vincent Wong

    Good work, Pinky!

    From your old pal at Lamma Is., HK.

    • Reply July 10, 2013


      Thanks Vincent for your comment!
      Will definitely let Pinky know you have dropped him a line here

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