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In Profile: Flavio Manzoni

“The creation of a new Ferrari car is always a special moment; it’s a challenge with oneself, with one’s mind turned towards future scenarios; an individual and collective design process which has an initial expanding phase and a final convergence.”

In Profile: Flavio Manzoni


June 28th, 2016

What are the design ideals of Ferrari? Indesign’s Sammy Preston met Ferrari Design Director Flavio Manzoni during a recent visit to Australia to launch the new Ferrari GTC4Lusso. Here he reveals the design process for the legendary automotive brand, as well as his artful, intriguing approach and design philosophy.

SAMMY PRESTON: What would you say are the design principles of Ferrari?

FLAVIO MANZONI: The problem is how to balance beauty and engineering complexity, typically belonging to every Ferrari car. We are constantly involved to work above a lot of elements which define the complexity of such a high performing car, representing the excellence of automotive industry all over the world. It’s an intriguing challenge for the designer because the Ferrari brand has become in sixty-nine years a true myth.

Every Ferrari model is based on three main principles: technological innovation, thrill of driving and beauty. Obviously the third is that which mostly involves myself and the Ferrari Design Team. The goal is always excellence in performance, but in the meantime it must join the same highest level from the aesthetic point of view.

During the design process, we have to consider the close relationship which drives and combines all the features of a car. If we see through a transparency layout of a Ferrari model we can understand how the car is made and, over all, how the shape is organically related as part of its technical structure. I believe that we can’t imagine a new shape which is not at the same time coherent with its function and expression of beauty. This symbiotic and rigorous relation between form and substance (or function) probably represent the most relevant creative challenge for my designers team and I.

Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

PRESTON: What’s the process of design for Ferrari – how does it begin, how many people are involved?

MANZONI: The creation of a new Ferrari car is always a special moment; it’s a challenge with oneself, with one’s mind turned towards future scenarios; an individual and collective design process which has an initial expanding phase and a final convergence. We are talking about a design process that starts ideally from the blank paper. The required time can go up to three years. In particular, the definition and maturation of the final shape runs from fifteen to eighteen months. In reality, we never start from a true blank paper but from a technical base of the car that is called the ‘package’. It defines the basic architectural layout of the car and provides to the design team those fundamental constrains to be respected in order to ensure a specific performance range. The aerodynamic plays a relevant role, while ergonomics and intuition guide the design process concerning the interior of the car and dashboard layout.

There are different phases belonging to this process. We start with two-dimensional presentations and, as a second step, we focus our attention on virtual 3D modelling to explore a variable number of themes, that may be 10, 12 or more. Then, in order to evaluate the proposals, we create about 6 1:1 scale models before the final selection phase to choose the best one. This final object, that is the result of an intense process of selection and continuous improvement is named as ‘the synthesis model’. It’s a full scale model that represents the best of the valid proposals and it can be really considered as a ‘distillate’ of the entire creative research.

And  I can say that the number of people depends on the kind of project and may vary. Normally, if we include the design process both of the exterior and the interior of one car, there are approximately teams of thirty professionals working, including designers, virtual and physical modellers.

PRESTON: What do you believe is an important focus for automotive design now?

MANZONI: One of the most relevant goals for automotive design today must be a ‘cultural approach’ which should guide to distinguish ‘design’ from ‘styling’ with consciousness. This means, in my opinion, to focus on the shape of the content, more than approaching the product form in a cosmetic way, as an ‘ornamental shape’. We know that we are invited to deeply consider the technical constrains but at the same time we want to be able to transfer all the symbolic values and linguistic codes which belong to the design culture. And this is the reason why it’s very important to feel the ‘low signals’ which come from the world, from our society. We are talking about those emerging trends but also the less evident and resounding phenomena. The purpose is to be sensitive and perceive where the world is evolving and going towards because Ferrari must be able to anticipate the natural evolution of things. This kind of rigorous approach to define the shape reflects the essence of the project in order to distinguish true design from styling.

PRESTON: Yes, at your Vivid Sydney presentation, you spoke about styling being different from design – what is the real difference for you?

MANZONI: The shape of a Ferrari car can’t be considered as separate from the technological innovation belonging to the product itself. This marks the difference between style and design, as I said before. The Ferrari Design team believes that the surface covering all the mechanical and technical parts is not to be intended as a simple ‘cloth’ but, conversely, as a puristic and clear ‘body’ ready to explain its organic root and matrix, harmonising the complexity involved into its structure with the maximum of simplicity. To quote Constantin Brancusi, “simplicity is a complexity resolved”, it’s a beautiful mantra for us!

Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

PRESTON: Some of the new Ferrari designs have been inspired by futuristic, space-ship like shapes. How important are future visions in your designs? What is the Ferrari of the future?

MANZONI: The LaFerrari and the FXX K models drive our mind to a spaceship. The mission for me and my team is to look forward, it’s a continuous yearning. The aim is that to anticipate the object development in an original and not banal way in order to be able to and project ourselves into the future. We are constantly balancing a respect for tradition and for the courage of modernity. All the projects we are working on are based on these principles. We are conceiving and designing now, here, something that must be perceived as beauty, a piece of art, also in the next few years, and up to fifty years and more. It’s not only an exercise to test ideas and proposals, but it’s also a way to verify that shape and contents can be really intended as a convergence among technological and aesthetic elements.

So it’s very important the design vision into the future. We have never to miss that what we are conceiving and dreaming today will be the dream of our customers tomorrow! I would like to remember Achille Castiglioni, one of the great masters of Italian design, who said “design is a differed relationship with customers”. The spaceship concept I showed in Sydney comes from a dialogue with an automotive journalist, an expert in UFO. He asked me to imagine an UFO and to design it. With the help of two designers of my team we obtained the essential profile of the cloak by morphing and simplifying the LaFerrari body shape. Will we be seeing flying Ferraris? Maybe, I don’t know!

PRESTON: You also spoke about an idea of serendipity – borrowing from one practice to solve issues in another. How does this work in automotive design?

MANZONI: When I observe a masterpiece of the past, I think about something that fascinates me and deserves to be investigated in depth – how do the most innovative and brilliant ideas come? The history of design is generous with unexpected solutions and I often ask myself where these design ideas come from? How can we transform structural limits into solutions and visual icons? It is difficult to answer unequivocally. Maybe the secret is to adopt a heuristic working method, led to attempts and experiments, with logic but also with the awareness that we must deviate from [other generally accepted theories].

In my opinion the best industrial and automotive design takes advantage from the ability to connect elements that, at first glance, don’t belong to each other. This ability to bind fragments from different worlds in an innovative solution, but always consistent with the contents of the project, it is also fundamental. Because intuition is exactly that magic moment, that ‘short-circuit’ in which the balance between such complex factors is realised, through the materialisation of a breakthrough project.

Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

PRESTON: You mentioned Anish Kapoor as an inspiration in your approach. Who are some of your other artistic or architectural influences?

MANZONI: I think that Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright (whose houses I visited in Oak Park quarter in Chicago and the Guggenheim in New York), as well as some works from Saarinen and Frank Owen Gehry, represent an intriguing combination of symbolic and functional shapes together. I would like to remember the Italian designers like Achille Castiglioni, Bruno Munari, Marco Zanuso, Enzo Mari, and Joe Colombo, who activate a strong relationship between symbolic and functional shapes together. Since I was very young I always believed that inspirations can come from different areas and I loved to read the Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics, and analyzing the works of the visual futurist Syd Mead.

Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

PRESTON: How involved are drivers in the design process?

MANZONI: Both the F1 pilots and the drivers of the Ferrari GT Department are involved in the design process. Frequently the F1 pilots come to visit the Ferrari Design Centre not only to test the prototypes on tracks and outside but to evaluate together with us, designers and engineers, the validity of interiors and layout from the ergonomics and intuition points of view. Their contribution is fundamental when we have to match the limits of the highest performing cars and everything must be all under your control. The GT drivers test for a long time prototypes and pre-series vehicles giving us their feedback to join the perfection. I can assert that Ferrari Design team promotes a continuous exchange of experiences between pilots, engineers and designers.

PRESTON: Ferrari as a brand is about the romance of driving, something that should be sacred. How will Ferrari champion this into the future? 

MANZONI: Ferrari is a legendary brand. We feel the consciousness that a new Ferrari must be a masterpiece, that the dream become true. The instinct and the heart drive this process. I have to say that we are talking about an extraordinary experience which involves daily to match the goal of the excellence in every new product. It’s a dream to give birth to a new Ferrari car, and not only for those lucky people who can buy it. At the same time it’s always a challenge because every day you are in front of a myth and not simply a car brand. This push to increase, step by step, the designer’s consciousness and to match the highest expectations of the customers and fans concerning design, that’s my side obviously, but also all the others both technical and performance values. The LaFerrari design front can be considered an example to explain the relationship we have with the great and prestigious Ferrari heritage. The way we use to take inspirations from these elements is not that to celebrate the past in a nostalgic or rhetoric manner but as a source to stimulate the development of new creative approaches and languages.


Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

Flavio Manzoni Ferrari | Indesign Live

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