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August 04, 2015

Q&A Night in Milan with Mazda Design

1_Milan_with_Mazda_design_fwBy Holly Reich

I was invited to Italy by Mazda to attend Milan Design Week. The show covers a wide range of design events around the city of Milan, including furniture and industrial product exhibits, performances, and lectures. 

Mazda's exhibit, "The Car as Art" was also in central Milan, as part of Design Week 2015. Mazda designers hold to the tenet that the car is a work of art, and they strive to create cars that move people emotionally. Design Week is a fabulous way for automotive companies to show off their attributes.

3_Milan_with_Mazda_design_bikeMazda's Kodo design philosophy -- Japanese elegance through the beauty of RIN (self-restrained dignity) and EN (alluring sensuality) -- was portrayed in three objects: A racing bike, couch, and coffee table that were shown along with Mazda's latest car models, the Mazda CX-3 compact crossover SUV and Mazda MX-5 open-top two-seater sports car.

The clean, classic racing bike sported a hand-hammered frame that took two months to complete. The hand-sewn leather saddle -- colored black and Mazda red -- copied the seat stitching in the MX-5.

4_Milan_with_Mazda_design_bench_cx_3The sofa, framed with polished aluminum, tilted slightly forward (as if in motion). The vivid red used on the back provided an element of surprise in the Japanese manner of concealed beauty.

The matching table featured a wooden base shaped like wings, topped with glass. Metallic trim on the wooden frame echoed the signature wings of the family face of Mazda cars.

Mazda has design studios in Hiroshima, Yokohama, Los Angeles, and Frankfurt, and its top designers were in Milan for the design event. Following are excerpts from interviews that I did with the key Mazda designers while in Italy.


Kevin Rice, Ikuo Maeda, Derek Jenkins) attend Italy's Design Week in Milan.

Ikuo Maeda, Mazda Design Chief


Holly Reich: Tell me about Mazda's design philosophy.

Ikuo Maeda: This is how we let life into our cars. It's like a Japanese garden we integrate with the simplicity of form, harmony, and elegance. Our vehicles are an expression of condensed dynamic motion, water, sunlight, and wind.

With our new MX-5, our elementary palette philosophy is Soul Red, a deeper contrast red that highlights the contours of the car. To get beautiful proportions we push it forward and push from the tires. Less is more.

HR: What do you keep on your bedside table?

IM: Stylish stuff -- a paper knife made in Italy that is standard steel with a twist. I bring with me when I travel. I also collect miniature cars.

HR: How do you pack to travel and what are your personal interests?

IM: When I come to Italy (Milan or Tuscany), I go to wine country and bring back wine. I like jazz -- any jazz, but especially Miles Davis. For exercise I do T'ai Chi and I have a black belt in Judo. I have been doing Judo since high school.

HR: Where do you get your inspiration for car design?

IM: It's important to get stimulation from everything. We begin the process of design with sketches and take it to sculpture. We use clay, hard plastic, and leather. We experiment.

HR: What do you do for fun?

IM: I race. I have a yellow Lotus. I started rallying 30 years ago when I started at the university. I raced the MX-5 in Europe and on ice in northern Europe. I head Mazda's race club in Hiroshima. And for pure fun I like drifting!

HR: What do you see as the global design trends?

IM: Adding design, adding elements everywhere. People will get sick and tired of decorative and trend towards the simple way.

Kevin Rice, Mazda Motor of Europe Design Director

HR: Where do you get your inspiration?

Kevin Rice: We have no idea where we get the thoughts; we just keep them coming. The MX-5 took years to create. We worked with a spectrum of ideas so that we could have a meaningful pedigree. You are trying out a broad range of ideas from more nostalgic to more aggressive and modern with a target of Kodo Japanese esthetics.

HR: Is there any time that your mind turns off?

KR: You are never asleep as a designer; you are permanently absorbing. The relevant trends seep through.

HR: Tell us about the MX-5 and CX-3.

KR: The new MX-5 is lower, wider, and more planted. We moved away from the nostalgic look. In the process, we started to study the line or crease on the body of the vehicle. We take the design from full to sheer to taut.

The CX-3 is a very different Kodo interpretation. Forming the design is a question of respecting the materials and understanding the will of the materials.

HR: What do you work on when you travel?

KR: I use a spiral bound notebook; it's recycled and heavy and costs a fortune. But there is something beautiful about putting a traditional pen to paper.

Derek Jenkins - Design Director, Mazda North American Operations

HR: What do you work on when you're on the road?

Derek Jenkins: I am tablet-based; I use Microsoft Surface -- the best tablet in the world!

HR: What is the most satisfying part of your job?

DJ: Every year at the MX-5 meets, they (participants) ask to be teased on the future, and we discuss the potential. We listen to the enthusiast, and we keep that base.


Holly-reich-headshotBy Holly Reich for Motor Matters

HOLLY REICH has been writing about automotive and travel since 1982. She has reported on the automotive industry for television and radio broadcast stations including; Fox News, SPEED, Car TV and Autolab. Reich has contributed to publications such as RIDES,,, Elite Traveler,, The New York Daily News and The Washington Post. Holly is based in New York City.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2015 


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