Flavio Manzoni imbues every conversation with candour and passion, his sentences scattered with literary quotes and references to works of art and architecture. According to the self-taught designer, great automotive design is achieved by cross-fertilising disparate disciplines and appreciating intuition and serendipity throughout the process. He explains this during his recent Australian visit to launch the GTC4Lusso in the Southern Hemisphere, following its international premiere at the Geneva Motorshow in March 2016. During our conversation, he speaks enthusiastically about his team and the world of creative opportunity in Ferrari. His ethos is best described as the ‘metalanguage of form’, where design is an act of communication and form is the representation of memory, modernity, tradition, artistry and culture, rather than being purely utilitarian or ornamental. Manzoni subscribes to the belief that a Ferrari is much more than its technological and mechanical prowess, it represents and encapsulates modernity in its truest essence. “Creativity, for me, is the ability to see beyond relationships where they still don’t exist,” he explains, pointing to László Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus master, who espoused the virtues of uniting and connecting elements that are not obviously integrated at first view.
The Sardinian born automotive designer holds a degree in architecture, with a specialisation in industrial design. He began his career in automotive design in 1993 and produced work for Lancia, Maserati, SEAT, Fiat, Volkswagen, Škoda, Bentley and Bugatti, before joining Ferrari in January 2010. As Ferrari’s senior vice-president of design, Manzoni has the enviable task of leading the Ferrari Design Centre and specifically the design of the 430 Scuderia, 458 Italia, California T, F12 Berlinetta, F12 TDF, LaFerrari and the GTC4Lusso. Manzoni’s role—as a creative director of sorts—is a first for the marque in over 70 years. The Ferrari Design Centre represents the reintroduction of complete in-house design, from conception all the way to the final model—an approach that had been disregarded in the years preceding Manzoni’s appointment.
Understanding Manzoni’s design principles is tantamount to understanding Ferrari’s modern iterations and developments. Each Ferrari is realised by the slow and careful consideration of key design elements. Likening his collaborative rationale to jazz, Manzoni describes “multiple individuals working towards the same vision and with an equal ability to interpret the project in different ways. Similar to a jam session, multiple musicians are able to improvise individually whilst contributing to one whole piece of music.” These jam sessions are an opportune time to curate thinking by disciplines outside of automotive design, including architecture, sculpting and mathematics. “For the designer, the problem is how to balance beauty and complexity.” Manzoni demonstrates his insights by virtue of the other disciplines that he draws inspiration from, including the sculptural works of Anish Kapoor or the revolutionary 4D geometric calculations developed by German mathematician Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann.
Considering the engineering, aerodynamic and budgetary constraints, automotive design almost always adheres to the ‘form follows function’ mantra, which can make innovation difficult. Ideally, the evolutionary design process would start with a blank and expanding canvas, “in reality, [Ferrari] never start from a true blank page but from a technical base of the car that is called a ‘package’. It defines the basic architectural layout of the car and provides the design team those fundamental constraints to be respected in order to ensure a specific performance range,” explains Manzoni. “The aerodynamics plays a highly relevant role to the design process—especially when you consider the breath taking speed that a Ferrari can reach—while the ergonomics and intuitive layout of the controls influence the interior layouts of the car and dashboard.”
This conceptual process often means that each design decision is made with a framework that Manzoni describes as “the logical consequence of rational choice”. Meaning that the development and design of a Ferrari is not conceived independently from its technological ability, but rather as a visual interpretation of the power underneath its shell. “We avoid superficial and decorative styling, because we always need to reach a design consistency,” explains Manzoni. “It’s also a method or a philosophy that is based on the continuous challenge and aptitude as designers, to be both creative and coherent at the same time. This kind of rigorous approach to define the shape, reflects the ‘essence’ of the project and distinguishes true design from mere styling.” Working on several levels concurrently, Manzoni and his team aim to capture the emotion of Ferrari, while enhancing its capabilities with every release. In order to fulfill the promises of this method, Manzoni espouses the benefits of heuristic processes (where logical and practical shortcuts are utilised to meet immediate goals), lateral thinking and sophisticated design. “We don’t like to follow the philosophy of small incremental changes, based upon the optimisation of the previous existing solutions and products,” Manzoni adds.
“I believe that a ‘new icon’ should be born from new ideas and concepts, something unexpected and not a mere reworking of past icons. This is why my collaborators and I in the Ferrari Design Centre are constantly looking for new paradigms,” explains Manzoni. Manzoni stresses that design should look to the future to better represent the desires and demands of modern society. The process should realise the latent needs of the modern age and as a consequence prioritise future design over retro design. “This does not absolutely mean that we forget a heritage as rich as that of Ferrari, but we can reference elements in a metaphorical and subliminal way—a subtle hint to heritage in a sophisticated way.” Manzoni points to the noses of LeFerrari and FXXK, which were inspired by the shark like nose of the F156 that had won the 1961 Formula 1 World Championship and the GTC4Lusso with twin lights referenced from the 308 and the 456. When asked about Eric Clapton’s SP12 EC and its homage to the 458 Italia and 512 Berlinetta Boxer from the 1970s, Manzoni highlights how the end result was a complete appropriation of both the 458 base with a 512 body—a rare exception to his ethos of subtle adoption of iconic design elements.
The challenge of reconciling client desire against design innovation is a balancing act that has to be confronted in every Ferrari model. “There is a continuous tension between the yearning of modernity, the dream, the vision and what state of the art technology enables us to do,” he reflects. With almost 95% of Ferrari’s production aimed towards international markets, this metalanguage of design must not only reflect the heritage of the marque, but speak the language of a global and cosmopolitan consumer. Accommodating to such considerations is not a burden but rather part of a broader focus on ‘universality’, where the design team envision forms and lines that transcend borders and exceed expectations. “We push ourselves to match our customers’ highest expectations from the design point of view (that’s my role obviously), but also under all of that, we do the same for the technical and performance values,” adds Manzoni. “A Ferrari is more than a car, it’s a true myth. And all the Ferraris are defined as true ‘moving sculptures’ or ‘art works’.” Manzoni asserts that there is also a polarity in Ferrari’s brand of luxury, where a GTC4Lusso represents sports luxury with its coupé influenced shooting brake, architecture and spacious interior, the FXXK, in comparison, symbolises high performance and hyper-technology. “However both examples are exclusive, and their rarity make our products even more desirable and unique.”
These ‘moving sculptures’ can also be redefined by request through Ferrari’s bespoke design program, TailorMade. A service born out of the Ferrari Design Centre, where Manzoni nominated a division—what is known as a Materioteca—purely focused on archiving materials and researching new components. Within a few months the archive became a source of inspiration and was used to introduce clients into the world of Ferrari bespoke. Clients were personally introduced by the CEO or President to peruse the creative opportunities and the vast expanse of materials that could be utilised in any Ferrari design. “Step by step we understood the strategic importance and the function of this area. So we decided to create a specific program based on increased personalisation,” Manzoni explains. Within this division, materials such as furniture, textiles, leathers and composites are sourced to amplify each client’s Ferrari. Manzoni spotlights a 458 MM Speciale designed for an English client with an interior inspired by the 288 GTO and the exterior painted white to amplify the traditional Italian tricolour stripe that runs through the centre of the car’s exterior.
However, bespoke design is not just concentrated on elements such as colour, textiles and materials, it can also influence new thinking and technology. When asked about the future opportunities, Manzoni believes that augmented reality and immersive spaces will be further advanced and bring new possibilities for experiencing objects, space and surface in the automotive industry. Spacecrafts are also a new frontier that may overcome issues of finite land resources and will ultimately determine the focus of Ferrari design. Manzoni’s passion for science fiction led him to a conversation with a UFO expert and journalist who inspired him to design a spacecraft prototype based on LeFerrari. Manzoni redefined and simplified the LaFerrari exterior with the assistance of his design team. He asserts that LeFerrari’s adaptability to the concept reinforced his constant drive to develop cars that are future focused. The project unveiled the possibility of adapting new materials, technologies and aerodynamics that could be assimilated into the Ferrari design lexicon.
With over 77 years of Ferrari history, Manzoni and his team have the challenge of maintaining the heritage and brand identity of one of the world’s most iconic marques—a prestigious reputation that can only be upheld if one continues to push the boundaries of innovation. It is clear that Manzoni is wanting to leave his mark on this period of automotive history and capture the curious minds of a new generation of Ferrari enthusiasts. “The design of a Ferrari represents to me a connection between modernity and respect for the tradition, between invention and memory. It’s the meeting point between artistic sensibility and the ‘culture of the project’. A process steeped in intuition and imagination from the present in order to shape the future.”