Takashi Okamura, Colour & Trim Design Group Manager at Mazda’s Production Design Studio in Hiroshima, tells us the secrets of making your car feel every inch a Mazda.
What is the essence of materials design?
The combination of attractiveness of shape, richness of colour and complexity of texture results in an object that can be universally considered beautiful. As materials designers, our challenge is to bring these three elements together.
In your search for this synergy, where do you begin?
First, we think about every aspect of the impression we want our customers to have when they get into our cars. We aim to fulfil these sensory expressions by creating new ideas. For instance, with the new Mazda CX-5, we started off by imagining a material that combines a sense of ‘refinement’ and ‘toughness’ as one. For the decoration panel, we imagined a wood that has a metal-like shine, but is neither wood or metal. We then created new material, carefully considering how to craft it, and its fit and finish so that it is in perfect harmony with the car’s concept and the elements around it. This new material, together with the metal part fitted just below it, gives people the feeling of ‘refined toughness’.
And how is a specific material actually chosen?
We work closely with our suppliers, presenting them with conceptual challenges, and working with them to create new samples to fit the image. Our suppliers see value in our process, because they also get a chance to create something new.
What is the central element of Mazda’s materials design philosophy?
Our design is, above everything, human-centric and we want our customers to feel the human touch throughout the interior. At Mazda the idea of creating beautiful design ‘by human hand’ is deeply ingrained. So when designing the inner door handles in the current-generation vehicles, for example, we aimed to convey the appearance of something that looks and feels like it’s been polished by hand, rather than plain metal that may seem cold or soul-less.
Does the concept of Jinba-Ittai have an influence on material design?
Jinba-Ittai, the sense of connection between car and driver, is one of the main themes in Mazda’s interior design. When designing the Mazda MX-5’s interior we aimed to remove the visual boundary between the exterior and interior, by imparting the same emotional shaping and colour design. Another example: on the Mazda CX-9’s steering wheel, we’ve applied double-stitching for an extra touch of sophistication and craftsmanship.
What is the role of technology in creating new possibilities for designers?
Rather than the technology itself, what is important is how we use it to achieve our goal. We aim for innovation — creating new value for the industry, and throwing fresh light on a subject by combining different ideas and interpretations. That, I think, is the true essence of design.