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Developing Designs: The Public & The Passion

To say "Zoom-Zoom" is one thing. To identifiably design it is another. Here's some of what goes into making it happen.

"There are a lot of people out there who don't know what Mazda is," says Moray S. Callum, design director, Mazda Motor Corp. So one of the things that he and his colleagues must do, he explains, is design vehicles that can provide people with an understanding of just what a Mazda is, how it is different from other cars and trucks from other manufacturers. But he hastens to point out that while they want to control the things that "make a Mazda a Mazda," "We still want each product to have its own individual character. We don't want our cars to be an A, B, C version of the same design." In other words, it is not about shrinking or expanding one thing. "Look at the Mazda3 and the Mazda6," he suggests. "They are both readily identified as Mazdas, but they both have individual looks. The public wants that. They don't want the last design plus 10%."

But "the public" can be a troubling group for designers like Callum. He suggests that if you were to ask the public what they wanted in a vehicle's design, they'd want the belt line higher or lower, the wheels back or forward, the corner of the hood moved, the doors changed. . ."they will tell you they want everything. And if we gave them that car, they wouldn't want it. It would be a crap car." So what "the public" wants has to be interpreted by both the marketing people who are involved in the development of a vehicle and the designers.

Still, because Callum and his colleagues want to have people buy the cars they design, they do have to pay careful attention to what the market (a.k.a., "the public") wants. Take wood, for example (the real stuff or the polymer-based variant). "We still put wood in the interiors of cars," Callum admits, "because that's what people want. Designers don't always encourage it, but it is demanded by some markets." And so it is important to accede to these demands. "We would happily put new materials into cars if that's what people would agree to." He says, "We aren't controlled by the market, but we still have to pass the marketing test."

But there are cars that sometimes defy what is thought to be likely. Callum cites a vehicle from another manufacturer as an example: "Ask any customer what they want on a B car, and they'll say four doors. If you ask them if they want a two-door B car with a compromised interior, they'd say they wouldn't want it. Then you offer it to them, it looks good, and they buy it." It is the mini. Sometimes design makes all the difference.

Inside Edition. When asked why there seems to have been a recent dawning awareness among vehicle manufacturers that interiors are important to people, Callum responds, "It has always been the exterior that people remember and talk about." After all, when is the last time that you heard someone say, "Aw, man, did you see that seat!"? Simply put, Callum says, "There has always been a bias toward an initial passion for a vehicle." The sheet metals hooks them. He adds, "Mazda has been doing a good job of prioritizing interiors."

But there are some real challenges with regard to interiors. Compared with exteriors, Callum says, there are more packaging limitations and things to design around. There are costs associated with changes in interiors that are different than those on the outside. For example, he says that it pretty much costs the same to stamp a fender for an RX-8 as it does for a Mazda6. The equipment, dies, and material are given, either way. Changes are largely predicated on coming up with the form. "You can actually create new shapes for the same price," he points out, then adds, "But you can't always get new technology in seats for the same price." In addition to the price of the seat, it may be necessary for there to be reinforcements made to the underbody structure in order to accommodate it (e.g., as in the case of seats that have single attachment points as compared with the traditional configuration). In other words, changing the seats is likely to be a lot more expensive than it is to change an exterior feature. So what is more likely to be modified first is apparent.

Where Does It Come From? "If you ask a car designer where they get their inspiration, they'll give you all kinds of answers about architecture and consumer product design," Callum says. "It's usually more intuitive. Car design is a different entity. There's a lot more emotion in car design. It's not a refrigerator. It's not a house." So where do they tend to get their inspiration? From other car designers. And from understanding what the customers want.

Iwao Koizumi, chief designer within Mazda's Advance Design Studio in Hiroshima, who designed the Crossport concept vehicle, says, "Design is imagination." He explains that his approach is to take in all of the criteria—the market needs, customer life style, technology, materials, processes, etc.—and then to "put it in my head and shake it." The design is a consequence of that. (Callum jokes, "If he doesn't get it right, I shake it some more.")

For Koizumi, getting the design theme right means getting something that's simple and readily identifiable. It's something that can be expressed in just a few lines. . .and he quickly sketches what is easily identifiable as the Crossport front end. "Even a child could draw it," he says. The essence of the vehicle is essential. And it is up to the designer to create it.