Taking KODO design to a higher level
with a focus on aesthetics unique to Mazda and to Japan
This series gives a behind-the-scenes look at development of the all-new CX-5 and introduces designers and engineers who played a key role in the process. In this installment, we meet Shinichi Isayama, the Chief Designer who led the design of the new model. Read on to discover the connection between the new model’s design and the spirit of craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations of Mazda engineers.
Shinichi Isayama, all-new CX-5 Chief Designer
I want to express the spirit of Mazda craftsmanship, which is similar to sword-making, and the Japanese notion that there is life in things crafted by human hands.
The goal of Mazda design is to make the brand irreplaceable to its customers by offering them the joy of owning something beautiful to which they feel a special attachment. This ambition is shared by Isayama, who has loved cars since he was a boy and who did not hesitate to choose a career as a car designer.
“As a person involved in the creative process, my desire is to leave a legacy of beautiful things. I hope to bring richer color to people’s lives and the world around them with beautiful designs and make them more appealing,” said Isayama.
Given this ambition, Isayama feels it necessary to express Japanese identity to create designs that embody the brand. Isayama was sent to Germany in 2008 and later worked in the United States. This gave him an opportunity to view his homeland from the outside. It was then that he began to consider putting world-class Japanese craftsmanship to use in making cars. This includes craftsmanship and skills handed down from generation to generation and arts such as the tea ceremony, which eliminate all unnecessary elements and ostentation.
For Isayama, expressing Japan in his designs is more than merely using materials or traditional forms that reflect the country.
“But this doesn’t mean I’m simply pursuing novelty or adding things merely for appearance either. I want to express the spirit of Mazda craftsmanship, which is similar to sword-making, and the Japanese notion that there is life in things crafted by human hands. The idea is to express ways of thinking and living through the attention to detail and painstaking workmanship I feel only Japanese are capable of,” said Isayama.
This spirit of Mazda craftsmanship means being honest and facing the essence of the item head on. In the same way, the sword maker refines iron from iron sand and then pounds and folds it repeatedly, honing it into a blade. The craftsman puts his heart and soul into the sword, which becomes more than a tool. By building cars in this way, they become more than mere machines and speak to people. This, Isayama believes, is the unique quality of Mazda and of Japanese craftsmanship.
This notion of breathing life into the car is at the heart of Mazda’s KODO design philosophy. Having reinterpreted Japanese aesthetics, Isayama took on the challenge of taking KODO design to a higher level.
His aim was to enhance the dynamic distinctiveness and come up with a design with both mature sophistication and power that expresses finely honed beauty. “Refined toughness,” the slogan for the development of the new CX-5 design, originated from this vision.
True to this ambition, once the all-new CX-5 is in motion, the surrounding environment and colors reflected on the seemingly simple form of the car’s body change in a beautiful fashion.
The strong lines along the front fender give way to rounded forms at the rear of the body’s side panels, and the strong rays of light reflected off their surfaces are softened for a delicate form. This design suppresses direct expression through surfaces and lines for simple elegance and a muscular appearance. The result embodies a basic premise of Japanese aesthetics: less is more.
The same thinking has been put to use in the interior. As a practitioner of the tea ceremony, Isayama naturally thought of the traditional tearoom.
“I wanted to create a space that would let passengers relax while enabling the driver to concentrate on the road,” he said. “This called to mind the tearoom, where there is a comfortable harmony between relaxation and tension.” This is a story not of things but of the spirit.
In a tearoom all non-essential elements have been eliminated to create tasteful simplicity and a sense of tension amid an air of comfort.
The designers of the CX-5 were motivated by the belief that, while a car is a beautiful tool, it should also be a living work of art and a machine that elicits excitement. This means the design must not be a novel design that will lose its charm in the future or an expression of opulence or high-tech. Originating from a determination to produce a car with aesthetics unique to Mazda and to Japan, the all-new CX-5 embodies a profound concept that goes beyond simple design theory.
We will look at the all-new CX-5’s exterior design in more detail in the next installment.