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Mazda Design Workshop 2010

Thu, 09 Sep 2010

Milan is home to Italy's most famous fashion labels. But the Italian city is also firmly entrenched in modern industrial design, having developed into a significant player during the country's post-war era. Intrinsically linked to the creation of some of the most lauded architectural projects, such as the Torre Velasca and the Pirelli Tower, the dynamic metropolis is brimming with inspiration for designers working in all facets of the industry.

This was one of the main reasons Ikuo Maeda, Mazda's new general manager of design, chose to set up shop here during the development phase of the recent Mazda2. And it should come as no surprise that Maeda also pushed to hold Mazda's 2010 Design Workshop in the revered Italian city.

The event took place in the Villa San Carlo Borromeo, a 16th century palace built upon an original Celtic settlement on the outskirts of town. Once owned by a sole proprietor who used it as his country estate to entertain guests, the venue seemed more apt to announce the unveiling of a new Maserati than a new Mazda, but this is precisely the direction the company wants to take.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, Mazda is keen to exploit the sporting and emotional objectives of the Japanese brand, as instilled by the Cosmo Sport 110S and the original RX-7 – a vehicle designed by Ikuo Maeda's father in the late 1970s. But Mazda is also looking to convey the hand-crafted quality of Ducati motorcycles and high-end watches, products that provided the inspiration for the Shinari's interior design.

The program itself, set on a stage in a grandiose room that also housed some of the automaker's fabled products, had head designers in Mazda's global design team – including Peter Birtwhistle, chief designer of Mazda Motor Europe; Derek Jenkins, director of design at Mazda's North American operations; Yasushi 'TJ' Nakamuta, chief designer at the strategic design studio in Yokohama; and Ikuo Maeda himself – take part in a forum where they spoke about the brand's design vision (both historically and that which they are seeking to instill) and express their opinions on the wants and needs of different automotive markets.

The unveiling of the new Shinari concept, the showcase for the company's new 'Kono' design language, followed this introduction. The individual workshops that ensued took journalists through the work that takes place behind closed doors at Mazda's respective studios, and illustrated the processes behind the concept car's creation.

Our group was first greeted by TJ Nakamuta and Yong-Wook Cho – the lead exterior designer of the Shinari concept – in a session entitled 'Art and Form'. Yakamuta highlighted the keywords used in the creation of the Shinari – speed, tense and allure – and went on to explain the project brief. Interestingly, the first challenge was not taken on by the designers: the first step in the creation process was actually initiated by the modelers who worked on sculptures that communicated a 'sense of speed'. Apart from being an inverted process from traditional technique, it also showed several interpretations from the modelers, who then selected a sketch they wanted to develop into a 3D form.

Lead designer Cho then led us down the steps he took to create the exterior shape (in conjunction with the modeler who selected his design), outlining the key challenges that had been presented and what he did to resolve these issues. It was a very effective way to get into the head of the designer and see what he'd been thinking, but the process was also wonderfully outlined by his animated presentation, which included an analogy of being a chef at a restaurant while his boss (Maeda) sat at a table in the dining room donning a napkin around his neck.

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By Eric Gallina