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Inside Mazda



Mazda Design is obsessed with the ultimate form of beauty — the artistic forms that can only be shaped by the power and precision of human hands.

To find these forms, Mazda designers and modelers implement a unique process called Exploratory Preparation: creating objects with different forms to explore how these forms move people’s hearts.


The Designer begins with formulating the emotion that someone will feel when they see the car.

Once this emotion is defined, understood and internalized, the Designer can begin exploring that emotion in a form through sketching — the start of the transfer of energy from craftsman to object and from object to the viewer.


The Designer and Modeler discuss the target emotion and together review sketches in order to visualize the 3D form.

Inspired by the target emotion and sketches from the Designer, the Modeler begins to explore and shape the form through clay — the continuation of the transfer of energy from craftsman to object and from object to viewer.

The secret behind the ongoing creation of beauty: “Exploratory Preparation”

"Seeing the beauty of instantaneous motion in a living creature can be a strikingly emotional, inspiring experience.

Fascinated with this feeling, the designer relies on his honed aesthetic sensibilities to recreate it in a beautiful, pure, three-dimensional form."

Ikuo Maeda,
Executive Officer and General Manager,
Design Division.


Maeda is the man who created Mazda’s KODO: Soul of Motion design theme which, many have said, revolutionized Mazda Design. His obsession goes beyond the automobile and extends to brand design, which becomes evident when he talks about his own design philosophy.

“One thing I’ve persistently told everyone involved with the Design Division over the past few years is to have a brand-led design perspective. Thanks to our new direction the job of a designer is no longer focused on maximizing appeal of every car model, but to make sure that when our cars are lined up together, the line-up fascinates customers. It doesn’t mean that we are paying less attention to the beauty of each model, what we do today is to create designs that enable the whole Mazda line-up to represent a unique, consistent message.


“What sets Mazda Design apart from other brands is an obsession with ultimate form of beauty. I’d say that’s also our strength. We’re obsessed with the power of human hands and artistic forms that can only be shaped by human hands. We come up and experiment with ideas to translate the artistic forms into a car’s design. We call the process an Exploratory Preparation. Our design process doesn’t start with car design. We create objects with different forms and explore how these forms move people’s hearts.”

At Mazda, designers never start by designing a car. Their first step is to create an ideal form. According to Maeda, the Exploratory Preparation is a process for creating a powerful message and consistency of philosophy in the Mazda model line-up.

“When you cook Japanese foods, the way you cook dashi (cooking stock or broth) will have a significant influence on how the foods taste. Making a perfect dashi is a good analogy for what we’re doing to continually create the ultimate form of beauty. We use the form to decide on the role of each model in the Mazda line-up. That form’s role is discussed with the chief designer in charge of each model, and the discussion inspires the designers to visualize what the final picture looks like. So as you can see, we use different approaches for creating expressions of the Mazda brand’s different strengths yet in a consistent way”

KODO Design: Breathing Life into the Car.

“To sum up what we mean by KODO Design, it’s about creating cars that embody the dynamic beauty of life — cars that visually suggest different expressions of this energy. In Japan, we feel that craftsmen inject life into what they make, so objects that receive the love and caring attention of these craftsmen have a vital force; a soul. As we are a Japanese car company, we believe that a form sincerely and painstakingly made by human hands gets a soul.”

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“For everyone connected to Mazda, a car is not a means of getting from A to B, but actually a partner you can rely on and that inspires you. That’s why we want Mazdas to express the beauty of instantaneous motion seen in living creatures. That’s what KODO Design stands for.”

Maeda tells me that a car capable of expressing life beyond its form and shape can stimulate creativity and imagination of those who look at the car.

“Mazda’s current design concept is called KODO Design, and to tell you the truth, it was a long and winding road to find the right name. You may think, oh it’s just a name, but it’s the name that inspires designers. So choosing the right name is extremely important. What we did was to come up with 3 Japanese words that expressed our vision – “rin”, “dou” and “en”.

The word “rin” is a pure, refined presence, “dou” stands for dynamic motion which is the tradition of Mazda Design, and “en” refers to the sensuality of a living creature. We said, let’s try to balance those 3 words to define the scope of design. We wanted to come up with a single word, and it took us almost 12 months to create the word “KODO”. The word Kodo is actually written in a different way to how it is usually written in Japanese. We made this change to the first set of characters to add another layer of meaning to the word Kodo. The blended meaning takes Kodo’s normal meaning of “heartbeat” and adds the idea of imbuing something with life; of giving it a soul. I still remember how we were overcome with emotion when we finally got the right name.”

The excitement around Design’s work rallies everyone around making Mazdas.

“Designers and engineers used to reach a middle ground on technical issues by making compromises. Luckily, we designers now have the privilege to pursue an ideal and create jaw-droppingly cool design. We stand back with the engineers to view the design and share the excitement and enthusiasm. If we get more people to say, “wow how cool is that, I definitely want this car”, everyone starts to get aligned in reaching the same goal, which in turn becomes one big movement. So designers at Mazda are responsible for creating and showing off designs that knock our colleagues out.”


That whole new process began with SHINARI*, a design concept car launched in 2010.

“SHINARI is a concept car based on KODO Design, which was made to internally present our desired direction. That’s why it wasn’t just a show car, it was what we call a vision model. 2010 was the time when I was appointed General Manager of the Design Division, it was when Monotsukuri (Manufacturing) Innovation was underway to develop SKYACTIV Technology.”

“I was deeply impressed by our engineers’ unwavering commitment to the technology. I said to myself, well, if the engineers are innovating technologies, design must exceed the technological innovation and make our cars look absolutely sensational. That’s how we created the SHINARI. The car was a message to the world that at Mazda, we make cars that we think are an ideal by getting our technology and design in perfect snyc.”


*SHINARI was a Mazda concept car launched in September 2010. The car was launched as the first concept car to embody the new “KODO - Soul of Motion” design theme.

Maeda tells me that at Mazda, he has witnessed a series of dramatic events led by employees who appreciated that message.

“I set up a meeting for all the people involved in development, to communicate the underlying concept of KODO Design. The good thing was, those who got the message started to make things happen. In one instance, we had some engineers show us their version of the KODO sculpture created by the designers, but made by hand planing steel. They applied their own method to create the sculpture in steel. They tried to understand what we designers meant by the “dynamic beauty of life” by using their own hands. I was overwhelmed with emotions.”


“What we do at Mazda would probably never happen at other car companies. The process has permeated throughout the Mazda organization, and we are seeing an ongoing improvement in design quality. Brand design can only come to life by getting all the employees to embrace the same attitude and mind-set.”

Getting all the employees aligned around the same direction, taking part in a journey to the ideal future for Mazda. Mazda is steadily creating a unique organizational culture to consistently deliver exceptional design.

A new vision: refining car design by applying Japanese aesthetic sensibilities

Maeda wants the Mazda brand to conquer the global market. His strategy? Applying Japanese aesthetic sensibilities.

“Auto brands are entering an increased number of markets worldwide, with China being a good example. A key reason for the Mazda brand to be selected by customers in different markets is that our cars are “made in Japan”. A brand’s country of origin is very important, and many customers know that the Japanese cars are made-to-last and have great value. We must also get those people to say that the Japanese cars are really cool. To create and spread that perception, I think that Mazda needs to take a leadership role in raising Japanese car design to new heights.”


“Japan is a country that has a long history, which spawned highly sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities rooted in a unique set of values. You see that washoku (Japanese cuisine) is a pure reflection of very subtle, delicate and fine sensibilities. Completely and intricately calculated beauty has a noble dignity. In form creation, which is the most exhaustive part of the design process, a streamlined shape is so perfect that the shape imparts tension, and that to me expresses Japanese aesthetic sensibilities. Prioritizing the many elements and getting them all to generate a form that has a pure essence can create a stronger, more permanent impression. We call it “beauty through purity”. Ordering everything to singular purity describes our ideal form. We know that the current trend is to add different elements to a design to create many expressions, which in a way is easier, but to us that goes against the aesthetic sensibilities of Japan.”

“In the new-generation of products since the CX-5, I’d say that the MX-5 Miata (Roadster in Japan) comes closest to achieving ultimate beauty through purity. We didn’t rely on character lines to express a sense of motion as we had with all the previous generation of models, we used the reflection of light instead. With the CX-3, we avoided adding excessive complex curves, instead we used a single, flowing line to express dynamism. Those 2 models look pure and refined, with a great feeling of energy. Both models embody the ideal of KODO Design.”

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“Now I’m looking forward to the many challenges and experimentation so that we can further pursue an expression that truly reflects Japanese aesthetic sensibilities.”

Armed with his unique design philosophy and Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, Maeda is determined to compete against global players. Every word that he speaks is a clear indication of Mazda’s future design direction.