Interview: Ferrari chief designer Flavio Manzoni : works of art on wheels

The man who defines the shape of every Ferrari launched since 2010 is someone who appreciates architecture, music or painting as much as sculpture and plays with these elements in his creations when designing a new sports car.

Interview: Ferrari chief designer Flavio Manzoni : works of art on wheels

The man who defines the shape of every Ferrari launched since 2010 is someone who appreciates architecture, music or painting as much as sculpture and plays with these elements in his creations when designing a new sports car. Born in Sardinia in 1965, after studying architecture at the University of Florence with a specialization in industrial design, Manzoni began his career at Lancia in 1993, where he was responsible for vehicles such as the Fulvia coupe concept, the Ypsilon and the Musa, and was also responsible for interior design was. In 1999 he was hired by Seat as Head of Interior Design, where he worked on models such as the Altea, Leon and the notable Salsa and Tango concept cars. Three years later, Fiat offered him to head the Fiat and Lancia styling centers. The Volkswagen Group brought him back as head of Group Creative Design in 2007. The ping-pong game between Italy and Germany finally reached its climax when Ferrari made Flavio Manzoni vice-president for design - an offer no Italian designer could resist. In this role, he replaced Donato Coco and in 2018, for the first time in Ferrari history, established a fully independent design center housed in a four-story building in Maranello, et Ist). Since Manzoni became Ferrari's new design chief, he has - either with his team or in collaboration with Pininfarina - brought cars like the F12 Berlinetta, FF, La Ferrari, GTC4 Lusso, 488 GTB or the SF90 Stradale to the road. During his successful career he has received numerous prestigious awards and honorary degrees, including the Compasso d'Oro (2014), the oldest and most prestigious award for industrial design, for the F12 Berlinetta. Never before had Ferrari launched so many different cars in just a decade and never before has the company had to manage such a drastic transition of powertrains - a major challenge for supercar brands for which Ferrari is the ultimate icon.

Joaquim Oliveira: I've seen you speak out about what influences you when you start working on a new design project. How does your mind move more towards a work by Lucio Fontana or Anish Kapoor when you are faced with a blank sheet of paper? Flavio Manzoni: It's not easy to summarize the workings of the intellect because the human being receives so many inputs when creating an object. Then there are the technical requirements that you have to take into account, especially with supercars like in the case of Ferrari. This means that a large part of the inspiration comes from the technical aspects of the vehicle, although the artistic dimension always has its place. This is where art, music, architecture, product design... and many other aspects come into play. There is a beautiful phrase by László Moholy-Nagy, one of the great figures of the Bauhaus, that in a way encapsulates my thoughts on influences and the way a creative mind processes them: The mind's ability is to that aren't necessarily connected to each other, a kind of short circuit that can uniquely fuse inputs and create something truly unique. Joaquim Oliveira: In the past, the exterior design was valued more because it was more exposed. However, some of your colleagues recently told me that interior design is currently in a process of evolving more in 5 years than in the previous 25 years. Do you agree? Flavio Manzoni: Until 2010, the interior of a vehicle was considered a secondary aspect of vehicle design and development. That has completely changed. The interior of a car defines your lifestyle, the environment in which you experience life, and technology has allowed us to make great strides compared to the recent past. Vehicle interior design has evolved much faster in the last ten years than in any other period in automotive history and I know this very well because I started at Lancia in 1993 and was responsible for interior design. What we did then and what interior design does today is completely different. At Ferrari we have a strong incentive to set the bar extremely high, at the highest level in the industry, because that's what our customers expect of us, and also that we match the advances we're presenting on the technical side.

Joaquim Oliveira: In the past there was always this well-known confrontation between the artists and the engineers pushing towards goals that in many cases were irreconcilable. Do you still feel this conflict? Flavio Manzoni: That depends very much on the car manufacturer you work for. At Ferrari, the level of synergy is extremely high, to a degree I have never experienced before; but I am aware that it is slightly different with other brands. When the members of a team recognize that there is a will to create an end product of outstanding quality, they all embody the collective will to succeed and every challenge becomes a responsibility for all. From the designer's point of view, working with the engineers is not a problem, but an opportunity. Joaquim Oliveira: Does being an architect give you a more balanced attitude between mathematical and aesthetic principles? Flavio Manzoni: Indeed, the fact that I am an architect gives me a different perspective compared to my colleagues, who are purely car designers by training. It's unhelpful to be a fanatic about design purity today because there are many trade-offs we must consider. Ever since I was a little boy, I've always been fascinated by the engineering, the physics, in short, the technical side of any vehicle. How does a submarine work? How did a steam locomotive work? But the usability of a place where people are supposed to stay for a few hours is also fundamental, be it a concert hall or the cabin of a vehicle. The comfort, the view, the optimal use of a given space are very important factors. Essence and style, art and technique have become essential aspects of design. When designing, you have to combine beauty and function in the best possible way. Joaquim Oliveira: If one of the main characteristics of a product is the sound and the sound will not be there in the foreseeable future, then the design will tend to fill the space by becoming more dramatic or, on the contrary, should it follow the acoustic pattern and also become quieter? Flavio Manzoni: I don't see a direct connection between the form and the sound. But designing an electric car obviously requires a different approach. In other industries too - such as hi-fi audio systems, typewriters, etc. - each technological breakthrough has been accompanied by a peak of creativity. This is important because different technologies should come with different ways of expressing them physically: they should be connected. Of course, sound is a very important part of a Ferrari and touches one of the most important human senses by appealing to it visually. It's not that there won't be any sound... there will be a different kind of sound. We have to work hard to develop a specific sound that is not fake unlike some examples that we have in the industry now.

Joaquim Oliveira: Is there such a thing as nationality DNA when it comes to design? Or is a French designer perfectly capable of styling a Korean car, or can a Japanese designer create a German car without going through a styling filter within the company? Flavio Manzoni: I think that a car manufacturer's design is always influenced by every new vehicle. The brand's aesthetic culture is very present, very strong. There are designers who tend to basically follow their gut feeling, and others who prioritize interpreting the brand's values ​​and translating them into shapes. I can tell you that in my case I was working in Germany trying to assimilate the identity of the brand I was working for. Joaquim Oliveira: Some important automotive brands with long histories have accepted to let the design of their latest cars be influenced by osmosis of the tastes of the customers from their most important markets. Because Ferrari has such a unique selling proposition and their cars traditionally sell out before they go into production, is the brand immune to this effect and still able to dictate the vehicle's design far from commercial concerns? Flavio Manzoni: At Ferrari we never conduct customer surveys or market research to assess what we should do with new products. We work according to the principles that serve our DNA but are developed within the company with the aim of creating something that naturally becomes universal. If we pay too much attention to what is in fashion at the time of development, we will fail in our task of inventing something new. We will not write new pages of automotive history, just add a few sentences to pages already written. Joaquim Oliveira: I don't think I've ever spoken to a designer who appreciates the term "retro" by itself or in a compound form (like "retro-futuristic"). In your case, is that because it implies the idea of ​​redesigning an existing model/style rather than creating something entirely new? Flavio Manzoni: Exactly. For me, the great masterpieces are generally created through a vision, through imagination. Vintage in general and retro design is something that became a trend in the 90s, so about three decades ago, because the past is something that gives you a certain sense of well-being. In most cases, the masterpieces were also commercially successful, so their aesthetic principles are easy to accept. But the goal of design should be different: to create something that doesn't exist. It is quite another thing to use the suggestive magic of the vehicle typology of the past, as I did in the case of the Monza (Barchetta) and the Daytona (sports prototype). It was never my intention to do a "remake" but to use an architecture from the brand's past and as these were specific Icona projects, not the standard production vehicles.

Joaquim Oliveira: "Think of how this car will be perceived in 50 years' time". This is said to be an attempt to inspire its designers to create a classic of the future. Is that at a time when the lifespan of products is becoming shorter and shorter? and obsolescence is accelerating, a train of thought that can still be applied because it is the most iconic luxury sports car manufacturer in the world? Flavio Manzoni: When I speak to my team members, I often ask them to introduce themselves as a object that we design today will be perceived in three, four or five decades, because it is important to make a positive impression on our customers, yes, but also to ensure that we create something that reflects our tradition and our high standards Joaquim Oliveira: In large multinational companies with a handful of brands, the role of the top designer is in many cases no more designing and creating. You lead teams, direct styling, attend board meetings, etc. As Ferrari is in such a unique position in this regard, do you have the privilege of still working as a designer? Flavio Manzoni: What do you think? Joaquim Oliveira: I think so, but you have to tell me... Flavio Manzoni: It's important to be aware of two aspects. One is the communication that results from the forms you create, and the other is verbal communication. Many design studio heads are very good at verbal communication, but I believe the role of design vice president should also be a teacher, a tutor, someone who is able to show how to design, how to shape, how to breathe life into an object. The ability and time to sketch are essential for this role, I think.

Joaquim Oliveira: Paper or Computer? Flavio Manzoni: Both. The computer is a great help because it allows to be much more precise and faster in the elaboration of projects. With the 3D software we are able to immediately see the balance of shapes and proportions, fundamental in a Ferrari. But one should not forget the paper, the pencil, with which the human brain has a more direct connection. Joaquim Oliveira: Are there common traits in the cars you design that would make it clear, "This is a Manzoni piece"? Flavio Manzoni: I think you can see a specific approach. The conjugation of form and function with the addition of some poetry, some art in the recipe. A car is a combination of design and sculpture and that's what I do in a very honest way, trying to materialize the essence of the project. This may sound very philosophical, but in reality it is what we do every day. Joaquim Oliveira: What were the main challenges you faced when you were given the task of designing the first crossover in Ferrari history? Flavio Manzoni: The need to design a Ferrari was the first challenge. And of course the proportions had to be right, the balance. But with the space, versatility and specific characteristics of the Purosangue, which differs from all previous Ferraris.

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