History of Mazda Design

July 28th, 2023 by

Mazda is not and has never produced cars that can easily be mistaken for something else. They’ve always been uniquely Mazda, thanks partly to their unique design. The history of this design is rather interesting. Read on to learn about the Mazda design process, how unique it is compared to other manufacturers, and how it ties into its Japanese roots.

The History of Mazda

We can’t talk about the Mazda design story without first discussing the company’s history. Did you know Mazda was founded in Hiroshima, Japan, back in 1920 as a cork manufacturer? In fact, it wasn’t even called Mazda. It went by Tokyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. It didn’t produce its first vehicle until 1931, and that vehicle was a three-wheel truck called the Mazda-go.

Its name paid homage to Tokyo Kogyo’s second president and great founder, Jujiro Matsuda, which sounds an awful lot like Mazda. However, the spelling was used to pay homage to a second revered figure: Ahura Mazda, the god of harmony, intelligence, and wisdom. This powerhouse of a name featuring thoughtful design was the start of a company that set out to be a beacon of good in the automotive industry.

The Mazda Design Process

Knowing the thoughtfulness of the name and mission of Mazda sets a strong foundation for understanding its design. Unsurprisingly, it follows a specific philosophy that considers the importance of art and design in relation to the human experience of interacting with these vehicles. This philosophy is a love letter to the true beauty of motion created by human hands. Let’s break all of that down and find out what that means today.


KODO is Mazda’s current design concept, and it’s a word created to inspire Mazda’s engineers. Ikuo Maeda, the executive officer and general manager of Mazda’s design division, is at the forefront of this ideology. Maeda’s explained that they narrowed the design’s vision down to three Japanese words:

  • Rin: Pure, refined presence.
  • Dou: Dynamic motion.
  • En: The sensuality of a living creature.

With these three terms in mind, it took almost a year to find the single word that embodied all three: KODO. Maeda describes it best, saying, “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.”

When we consider Mazda’s original mission, it becomes abundantly clear how intertwined new concepts and old philosophies continue to be. Mazda designers and engineers have embraced KODO ever since it was presented to them. They used this philosophy to make the SHINARI in 2010, a concept car that put a face to the idea.


When it comes to creating vehicles, Mazda uses designers and modelers to combine form with function. The designer takes time to craft the idea of the vehicle and what emotion it’s meant to evoke. They take that understanding and start to sketch. The designer takes these sketches to the modeler, at which point they work together to visualize the end product. And contrary to what you may think, that modeler doesn’t just hop onto a computer to perform their craft.

The team at Mazda takes the company’s design philosophies seriously. To carry out that mission with care and precision, the modeler first turns to a humble brick of clay. This is the first place the vehicle’s design is realized in 3D form. As the clay structure evolves into its final form that achieves the feelings it’s meant to inspire, that clay gives way to metal.

Consistent with the Mazda way, the machines that cut the metal have had an artisan’s touch. They’re created to cut with the attention and accuracy synonymous with the KODO Design.


The colors on Mazda’s elite fleet are hardly an afterthought. Extreme thought and care are taken not only when preparing colors but also to applying paint and finishes. One of the leading experts on Mazda’s design team is highly regarded expert Kazumitsu Tamai. His work is technical and complex. He uses a spray gun to paint a finished model. His focus is uniformity, achieved through efficient movement.

The result must perfectly match the standard set by Mazda. There can’t be variations. Tamai has to recreate iconic Mazda colors such as Soul Red, which requires layering multiple colors on top of each other in just the exact right way, a way that only he can produce. Of his job, Tamai explains, “The job is a huge challenge, which is daunting, but it fascinates me. Repeating subtle adjustments and expressing colors through my own sensibilities, I find the whole process truly worthwhile.”

Japanese Roots

Mazda’s design is deeply rooted in Japanese philosophy, sensibility, and culture. The Japanese aesthetic is reflected in everything from its cuisine and architecture to its vehicles. Extreme regard is given to beauty and simplicity. At the same time, delicate intricacy is considered to be deeply important. It’s one of the goals that Japanese design seeks to achieve throughout its culture.

Because Mazda was founded in Japan, these principles are built into its foundation. That subtle precision is a hallmark of every step in the design process. From the designer’s consideration of a concept’s emotion to the modeler’s understanding of how the slightest motion informs a design’s flow to the efficient perfection required of the painter, Mazda embodies Japanese design and its core values.

The commitment to honoring these roots from day one speaks volumes of the importance Mazda places on quality. They put their all into designing a vehicle that you’ll love driving. It’s a beautiful thing.

Appreciate That Design Yourself

Head over to Mazda of Orange today to see what KODO looks like in person. Getting behind the wheel of your next Mazda is going to feel that much more special now that you know all the care that was taken to put it in your driveway.


Mazda Shinari Concept by Nguyễn Hoàng Kha is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0

Posted in Mazda History