An interview with Mazda’s global head of design, Ikuo Maeda

Global head of design talks MX-5, Milan Design Week and future of KODO design language

Mazda’s global head of design talks MX-5, Milan Design Week, red wine and why his KODO design language has a rosy future.

Which objects do you draw inspiration from?

“When I went to college my father gave me a paper knife. It was so simple yet so beautiful. Creating something like this is one of the fundamentals of good design. Chop sticks are tools too. They’re very simple yet beautiful. The handle is multi-faceted to fit the human hand better and I think the designer must have paid great attention to the aesthetics and dynamism. They also have great significance for us Japanese because we are the only country in the world that eats its food only with chop sticks. But for me the best piece of industrial design to come out of Japan is the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.”

How does Mazda go about designing a car?

“Soul of motion is the basis of our design language at Mazda. The Japanese say tools have life and the point of manufacturing is to give life to tools. We want to breathe life into a car and make it more than a metal box. Bearing that in mind, I like to imagine the concept of the car before I create its shape. It needs strong features as a form. Then we ask designers to come up with drawings of their own opinion and feelings. We then discuss which are good and which are bad.”

How do you keep the KODO design language fresh?

At our studios we have hundreds of sculptures that encapsulate the KODO design form. These allow us to constantly check new designs against the original inspiration. This ensures we stay on the right track but also allows us to keep evolving KODO so that it remains fresh and unique.”

So how long do you think KODO will be the inspiration behind Mazda designs?

“I think it’s got a lot of life in it. It enables us to move in various directions within a certain range. Personally, I will espouse KODO until the day I die.”

When did you realise you wanted to be a car designer?

“I started drawing machines like cars and aeroplanes when I was very young. At school I would draw anything with an engine, particularly motorcycles. I like to be on the move and was riding a motorbike on the road as soon as I could get my licence.”

Which of your designs do you like the most?

The car I’m proudest of is the Shinari concept but I think the latest Mazda6 looks pretty special and the next couple of cars we unveil will be pretty cool too.”

Do you feel the pressure to get the next MX-5 right?

“Yes most certainly but that’s part of why I became a designer. I enjoy pressure. And for fans of that car: don’t worry. Its future is in safe hands.”

Why do you come to Europe for design exhibitions?

“In Japan there aren’t really any design exhibitions like Milan Design Week. It’s great going to places like Milan because everyone loves design and art and I find that kind of environment very inspiring. You can just wander around and you see lots of good stuff. I’m particularly keen on furniture like chairs and tables. But really I just love Italy. I drink Italian red wine every night!”


Maeda’s father Matasaburo designed the legendary and iconic first generation Mazda RX-7. “I think his designs were more functional than mine,” Ikuo Maeda says. “Mine are much more emotional.”

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