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Inspired by the soul of motion

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Ikuo Maeda rallied the company's 200-strong design department around a new general styling direction he called "Kodo" in 2011

SO you've decided to harness the power of beauty to turn your company's fortunes around.

Here's how Mazda redesigned its fortunes by starting with a clean sheet.

  • Set a clear direction

Mazda's design chief, Ikuo Maeda, rallied the company's 200-strong design department around a new general styling direction he called "Kodo" in 2011.

Loosely translated into "soul of motion", Kodo design focused the designers on trying to breathe life into Mazda's designs, often by drawing inspiration from animals.

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"We often talk about cheetahs in our explanation of Kodo. It's a symbol of the beauty that living creatures show when they move," said Atsuhiro Takahashi, the staff manager for Mazda's Advanced Design Studio. "We want to express this with our cars."

  • Bend a few rules

Doing things differently can bring about fresh thinking. Most cars start out as sketches that are made into sculptures, but Mazda decided to do things the other way around. "We threw away the idea of drawing sketches first. Instead, we started with sculptures," said Mr Takahashi. That helped to make designers feel like artists, he explained, and encouraged them to come up with sensual forms.

  • Empower the right people

At some car companies, engineers rule. Others put accountants in charge. But at Mazda, designers are given more influence than is usual, and work closely with engineers. One example of this in action is how designers wanted to place the driver closer to the back of the current MX-5 than in the previous model.

"We could get a stronger sense of beauty, with a kind of visual stretch that way," explained Mr Takahashi.

But moving the driver position back also ended up helping engineers achieve their target of a 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear of the car, making it a win for both departments - something that never would have happened if the engineers didn't take the designers seriously.

"Our engineering team deeply understands beauty," said Mr Takahashi. "That is Mazda's advantage."

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