“Design that arouses emotions”, is the idea behind the KODO design language introduced by Mazda in 2010. Since the introduction of the R360 Coupé, the Japanese manufacturer has always tried to explore the subject of “movement” in a variety of ways with the design of its automobiles and to create vehicles that are as exciting to look at as they are to drive. The fact that this daring venture pays off in the end has been impressively demonstrated in recent years.
Since the introduction of the KODO design language, Mazda has been able to win a number of awards that are highly regarded among designers, such as the recently won “Red Dot: Best of the Best” at the Red Dot Product Design Awards 2019. This was also the reason why we at DESIGNLOVR wanted to get a deeper look behind the scenes at Mazda - and were delighted to spend a day at the Mazda Design Centre in Oberursel near Frankfurt.
In addition to the conversation with Jo Stenuit, who as Design Director Mazda Europe has gathered more than 20 years of experience in various design departments at Mazda, our programme included a walk through the exciting “Colour & Trim” studio of Maria Greger as well as a short “Hands on” in clay modeling.
Good design based on Japanese culture: Jo Stenuit explains Mazda's design philosophy
“What makes Mazda Design so special”, we asked ourselves while waiting for Jo Stenuit, Design Director Mazda Europe, in the reception area of the Design Centre. Large images and the first clay models made it clear that in the coming hours a lot will revolve around materials, light and craftsmanship.
“What we see here is 'RIN'. The individual elements stand for elegance and adulthood and form the basis of the Mazda 3 Sedan”, explains Stenuit, the first of the two Vision models within the Mazda design philosophy. “On the other hand, we have 'EN'. These are fiery, sporty but also sexy design elements that are part of the new Mazda 3.” In contrast, the Mazda CX-30, for example, skillfully combines the elements of both Vision models, as we will learn later.
In addition to the individual elements that Stenuit described in detail at the beginning of our stay, it is above all the traditional tools and the outstanding craftsmanship that make Mazda Designs special. “You can see the passion of the craftsman”, says Jo Stenuit as we look at a picture of a Japanese bowl. “We just want to make good design based on Japanese culture.”
“Besides, light is essential for Mazda's design.” What exactly Stenuit means by this becomes clear in the side view of the individual models: Unlike other manufacturers, Mazda needs only a few “Feature lines“, although many striking lines are reflected in the canvas of the exterior. “Edges make it easy to hide things”, says Stenuit with conviction. “But if you don't have edges, everything has to be right. All elements have to flow together harmoniously - and that's the big challenge.”
Against this background, it was also noticed that after the first sketches, which are usually provided with many small details, you have to quickly move on to 3D-Modeling, as this is the only way to “experience” the intended lighting conditions.
Maria Greger's “Colour & Trim” area brings inspiration and trends together in a structured way.
Which colours will play a role in the coming years? Which materials will be the focus in the future? Maria Greger has worked at Mazda for more than 20 years and, together with her design team, develops ideas on how the interior of future models could look. “Trends play an important role in our daily work”, she says, “but it's still important that we as a brand end up with an image of our own.”
“We have to go around the world with our eyes open”, says Greger, who in her daily research not only leafs through trade magazines or visits fashion and furniture fairs, but also keeps an eye on social media channels such as Pinterest or Instagram. “We get inspiration from everywhere”, she says, stressing the dangers of the new media. For example, we recently looked for inspiration for an internal project and found the same image of different people on the Moodboard several times.
Nevertheless, the discussion that arises when talking about “to be in fashion”, trend and longevity is particularly exciting. Especially when a new car, a new model is to be created. “In the context of an 'Advanced Concept' we assess what the current trends mean for Mazda”, Greger explains to us, going into the development process of a new interior. The other Mazda Design Studios around the world also follow this principle, so that “the individual concepts are presented and discussed”, so that at the end a final concept is created.
Craftsmanship and clay modeling as a basis to create a unique body shape
After a long, but above all exciting day in the Mazda Design Centre there was a small highlight on the programe, a so-called “Hands on”: Together with two colleagues from the Mazda design team who are responsible for modeling 1:4 or full-size models, we were able to gain initial experience with the clay-like material clay and try out a sculpture with knives, rasps and scrapers, among other things.
As you can see in the video clip above, not only spatial but also multidimensional thinking as well as a good body feeling and a lot of experience play an important role in modeling a new body shape. Every change usually has more than just an effect on the design or the proportions of the exterior. Accordingly, it can sometimes take hours or even days for the light to fall on the side of a new Mazda model in such a way that the lines in the minimalist exterior run perfectly.
But once the ambition is awakened, time flies in clay modeling!