You can interpret Shiro Nakamura's nickname, "Fingers," any number of ways. The Nissan design chief is a famously hands-on creative. A music lover, he plays the cello. He grasps at myriad inspirations, leading a team outside Tokyo that has recently produced concept cars inspired by shoes, video games, and bumblebees. But the timeliest explanation is that, with the zero-emissions Leaf—which goes on sale later this year and is the first global mass-market electric car—he has tried to put his finger on the consumer pulse and make a car that will sell. "We did not want to make something very strange for just the niche buyer," Nakamura, 59, said last year. That hews to his belief that creativity at its best isn't about just doing whatever you want: "More designers have to understand the values of society and the people they are creating the vehicles for."