Seeking for the true Japanese essence.
KODO continues to evolve towards the new generation.
At the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda presented their new challenge, their first mass-produced electric vehicle, MX-30. The newly announced car represents the new age for Mazda. The company have also announced that their electrification technology, “e-SKYACTIV” will be equipped in all of their cars by 2030. After announcing the MAZDA 3 before the Tokyo Motor Show 2019, the company have entered the 7th generation with their car lineup. The KODO design concept have started their second round. The next generation design of KODO is deeply influenced by the Japanese aesthetics. Why have Mazda set their design theme to Japan? And what was the DNA of the Japanese beauty that Mazda discovered? We will ask Ikuo Maeda, the founder of the KODO design.
Under the KODO design philosophy, Mazda design have received numerous awards from around the world. This experience have lead Mazda to evolve even further. “From the conversation with international journalists, I came to realise that each automaker brand represents their own country. For example, a modern design style originating from the Bauhaus exists in German automaker brands. In the case of Volvo, the brand embodies Scandinavian design. When I thought about the recent designs of Japanese cars, I felt that the design had became chaotic and there was nothing I can see from them. At that moment, there was a strong feeling rising within myself, that someone must visualise the style of Japanese design and that Mazda should be the one to do it!
Maeda faced the true identity of the Japanese aesthetics. From the stone garden in Ryoanji temple, he discovered the beauty of empty space. He noticed that by removing the elements, an infinite nature spreads beyond the empty space of the stone garden. He also realised that the beauty was to be felt in the heart, and cannot be seen. Nikkei Design / Junya Hirokawa “Mazda Design, Design Branding Business” Nikkei BP Company Publication
As a Japanese automaker, a Japanese design was needed for their car. To achieve the Japanese essence, Maeda visited the world of traditional crafts to find the answer. In order to deepen his thoughts, he collaborated with Gyokusendo and the seventh generation of Kinjo Ikkokusai. For more than 200 years, Gyokusendo have created the intangible cultural heritage, Tsubame-Tsuiki-Doki, a copperware created from a single sheet of copper. The seventh generation Kinjo Ikkokusai, a lacquerware maker in Hiroshima have protected the technique of Takamorie style for more than 170 years.
“We searched for the origin of the Japanese aesthetics, and connected that origin to the car design. While seeking for the Japanese style, we were not interested in any superficial design, such as using bamboo or shoji screens. Through the searching process, the answer we reached was the importance in the act of ‘Togisumasu’. The feeling of tension from removing the elements to the limit. The fineness and elegance that appears, after devotion of continuous work, without being satisfied with the present state. The beauty with depth while having simplicity. Actually, a word for ‘Togisumasu’ doesn’t exist in the English language”.
Maeda collaborated with Gyokusendo and seventh generation Kinjo Ikkokusai to search for the Japanese essence. Gyokusendo’s “Kodoki”, a tsuiki-doki wine cooler (Left Image). Seventh Generation Kinjo Ikkokusai’s “Shiraito”, a lacquered box created with the carved cho-shitsu technique and crushed eggshells (Right Image) Photography by © MAZDA
Maeda announced that the person who can move someone’s heart is the artist.
This served as a starting point which unleashed the talents.
While interacting with genuine craftspeople, Maeda noticed about the cray modeller’s high technique in Mazda. Traditionally, Mazda employed many skilled clay modellers. The modellers were talented in capturing the three-dimensional shape, and at times showed creativity beyond the work of designers. In the large corporate organisation, their talent wasn’t evaluated as they should, and the modellers weren’t able to show their full potential for a long time.
Maeda unleashed their talents by changing the HR system. For the especially talented cray modellers, he created a new title same as the executive class and called “Takumi Modeller”. He said to the cray modellers, “Everyone here are artists. Anyone can create anything they wish. But they must create a work that moves one’s heart when they see it”.
Through Maeda’s action, the colleagues understood that making a car in Mazda was about creating an art. Their slogan, “Car As Art” is about transforming the business-like product planning into an art production, filled with ambition and passion. After the full potential of these craftspeople were unleashed, their passion lead to the engineers in the factory’s production site. The engineers discussed about how they can realise the delicate curves of the cray models in mass-produced cars. In order to realise beauty into shapes, everyone in each department started to face towards art.
“The skill of the current modellers are even higher compared to the past. The reason is because their goal is higher. At the same time, they believe that the engineers who are responsible for the production are also artists, and that they are in the same team to create art. Everyone shares the same passion to create beauty, and this can only be possible with the collective strength of the team”.
The shape is brought to life by the modeller through their delicate touch between the hand and clay. Photography by © MAZDA
In order to reach the next stage, the design continues to evolve by deepening and going beyond their image.
The next generation of Kodo design which adopted the Japanese essence have visualised as the VISION COUPE, and was announced in Autumn 2017. The texture of the car is expressed through using only the smooth forms and light reflections. The pure and refined presence of elegance proves that the Kodo Design have continued to evolve.
The smooth curves allows us to feel the dynamic motion and beauty from the “VISION COUPE”. Photography by © MAZDA
Maeda’s work extends beyond car designs. While developing the VISION COUPE, he started the development of Mazda’s original font. The development was about capturing the Mazda’s essence into the small universe of fonts, and expressing the Japanese style of beauty at the same time. More than 10 designers gathered at the 4 days workshops at Yamanashi from around the world to create the font. “We wanted the font to reflect the elegance which Mazda is aiming for. While adding the delicate touch of Japanese senses to the font, we also wanted the stableness and energy as an automaker, as well as the human’s warmth and touch”. After more than a year since the start of the project, the “Mazda Type” was completed. The font is always used in official occasions. “A new font that reflects our craftsmanship in car making have completed. The font coexists a pure and refined presence, as well as a motion and sensuality” explains Maeda with confidence.
Mazda Type is a font developed originally by Mazda. The font has delicate adjustments of narrowing the top, and expanding the bottom to create the stableness. The aesthetic of the KODO design can be felt from each letter. Photography by © MAZDA
Recently, the MX-30 was announced at the Tokyo Motor Show 2019, and have gathered interest by many people. The newly announced car is Mazda’s first mass-produced electric vehicle, and at the same time the car was a fresh design that changed the current image of the KODO design. “The MX-30 has a different style compared to our past productions. In order to bring ourselves to the next level with the KODO design, we felt that we needed to try something completely different, while deepening the concept of VISION COUPE. By purposely breaking the completed process, one can discover something new and apply it. MX-30 is a car which is in a process of expansion, to deepen the essence”.
Mazda’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. While keeping the simplicity, the completeness of the KODO design and its beauty exists. Natural material such as corks are used in the tray and door handles. The MX-30 is Mazda’s new face that represents the present age of living true to yourself. Photography by © MAZDA
To design a car that impresses someone with the simplicity of Japanese beauty.
As a car race lover, Maeda handles the KODO design as if he is enjoying the race between his automaker rivals. In the end of the interview, we asked Maeda what drives Mazda toward the dedication to beauty at this height. “One thing that I am sure is that absolute value exists in beauty, such as completeness and precision. Though some may say that it is only a matter of likes and dislikes with design, I believe that absolute value comes first, and preference comes later. Mazda’s search for beauty is the search for the absolute value. I believe that a production beyond the absolute value can impress people”.
In 2020, Mazda will be marking their 100 year anniversary. “I see 100 years as a benchmark, and I will like to present what we can propose for the next 100 years through design”, says Maeda. During his days off, Maeda often join races. He continues to search for the fascination of cars.
Mazda’s current corporate slogan is “Utsukushiku Hashiru”, meaning drive beautifully in Japanese. “The corporate slogan is like a precept for us” says Maeda with a smile. Beauty equals absolute value. The Mazda design embodies the “Togisumasu” of Japanese beauty, through continuously aiming higher and its devotion to improvement.
Mazda Motor Corp. Managing Executive Officer, Design Brand Style Chief
Maeda joined Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. (Current Mazda) in 1982. He worked as the chief designer for the rotary-equipped RX-8, and the 3rd generation Demio that was awarded as the World Car of the Year. In 2009, he became General Manager for Design and launched KODO, a design concept for the Mazda Brand. In 2016, he became Managing Executive Officer, Design Brand Style Chief. His hobbies are motor sports and holds an International C License. In 2018, his book was published, “Design will change Japan, Bringing back the Japanese’s aesthetics of beauty” (Kobunsha Shinsho)
Text by Koji Shimizu