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November 15, 2018

Mazda Says Beauty is a Universal Language

“Did you see the new Mazda3?” asked Yasushi Nakamuta, General Manager of Mazda Design Division, the moment we sat down. Referring to a string of spy shots floating around the internet, we nodded in agreement. “What do you think of it?” Sounding like a trick question, we answered once more in the affirmative and added that the spy shots probably don’t do the car proper justice. “Ah, yes,” Nakamuta-san continued. “You still haven’t seen a lot.”

Given Mazda’s direction to evolve KODO from capturing dynamic movements—universally accepted in terms of design to taking inspiration from Japanese aesthetic—a more cultural one, we had to ask Nakamuta-san what is beautiful. Working in Mazda’s design department for over 20 years, does he and Mazda consider beauty to be universal or is it something more cultural?

“Beauty is beauty,” he says. “There are some forms which are more suited to a particular market—like how North America goes for big SUVs and Europeans prefers B-segment cars—but while the basic form may be better for one market over the other, the elements of beauty remain the same all over the world, like in the form, for example.”

Mazda realizes that form dictates the innate beauty of a car and it’s for that reason why they opt to design cars not with a sketch pad, but with a three-dimensional sculpture they call Goshintai or an object of worship first. Holding the pure essence of form, the design team creates many of these, all representing KODO design.

“The moment top management tells us that we need to design a car, an FR [front-engine, rear-wheel drive] sportscar for example, we look at each Goshintai and determine which form looks best,” Nakamuta-san reveals. “From there, we work to create a shape that’s closer to a production car with a cabin area, wheels, and the like.”

The move towards a strong Japanese aesthetic doesn’t mean Mazda will remain oblivious to local cultures and tastes, though. In fact, despite the carmaker’s small size, Mazda runs five design studios in three continents. These studios run independently from one another, all supervised by Ikuo Maeda, Mazda’s Design Chief. Using KODO’s guiding principles—the beauty of empty space and the interplay of light and shadow, the company runs an internal contest to see which designs are best. Twice a year they meet and deliberate to see which design need to be explored further and be brought to production.

“Ultimately, the end product is a global effort,” says Nakamuta-san. “Each product may have been designed with a specific market in mind, say the CX-9 for the North American market or the Mazda2 for the European market, but every design studio has an input in order to achieve the best balance between Mazda’s design philosophy and prevailing market tastes.”

When asked where the Mazda3 lies, is it more European, American, or Japanese in taste, Nakamuta-san wryly smiled: “that is pure Japanese aesthetic.”

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