Exclusive: interview with Flavio Manzoni

Automotive Design 29 Oct 2007
Exclusive: interview with Flavio Manzoni

We report the exclusive translation of an interview with Flavio Manzoni made by Virtual Car. VW’s Director of Creative Design talks about the Up! Concept and the brand’s future design direction.


The original interview in Italian was made by Sergio X1/9, Dr. Pianale and FastFreddy for Virtual Car. Below we report our exclusively authorized English translation.

Interview with Flavio Manzoni by VirtualCar.it – 10 October 2007

1. How long did the Concept Up! project take and how many people took part to the definition of its style?

VW Up! Concept SketchThe Up! was developed in about 6 months: a very short time, considering that not only is it a Concept Car, but also a new concept, production-oriented vehicle. The project started at the end of February and it was one among the first projects in Volkswagen’s “new course”.

By January the new guidelines for VW Design (on which I worked with a team of only four people) were already defined, and the UP! lent itself perfectly to being interpreted with essentiality and purity, features that characterized great past masterpieces.

Volkswagen Up! Concept - design sketchMany designers were involved in the project, thus showing the project’s appeal and strategic value, especially in the early stages of its research, where 3 suggestions for the exteriors and several ideas for the interiors were developed.

Once we made the final choice, the team was reduced to about 12 creatives, for exteriors, interiors, color & trim and interface design (the last was crucial for its added value of innovation and simplification of man/machine interaction).

2. Was the style truly defined on the basis of human figure – a human face, as for the front end? Was the concept extended to other parts of the car?

VW Up! Concept The UP!’s design was intentionally essential and pure, based on perfect proportions (thanks to the remarkable work carried out on the package) and on harmony among the elements. The front end, in particular, was based on new criteria of design, whose rigorous (but flexible) declension will be applied also to VW cars of the new generation.

Being a citycar, the interpretation of a new family feeling is intentionally more expressive and humorous, more “human”.

Even though its formal language is based on “softened” quadrangular figures inspired to industrial design and showing a 70’s touch, the particular layout of its elements is characterized by high expressiveness, communicating appeal and determination at the same time (that’s what we mean by “antropomorphic”); and human touch is undoubtedly a feature we wanted to give to the entire car, both inside and outside.

The rear end is as simple and expressive as the front end, and deliberately iconic.

The interior is friendly, pleasant to touch and totally frill-free; especially due to the new touch-screen, which allows to control all functions of the car in an easy and intuitive way (which I advocated enthusiastically, being absolutely convinced that this is the future, the natural evolution of M.M.I.) that permitted to get rid of all dashboard controls.

3. Besides its simplicity and rationality, how was the aesthetic aspect affected by the rear engine, by ecosustainability and by the existing pedestrian safety laws?

Volkswagen Up! ConceptReturning to the rear engine was a very important and determinant choice. Firstly, it is a return to origins for VW, just think of Maggiolino and T1 Transporter, and moreover, it allowed us to improve the entire city-car’s architecture: thanks to its very long wheelbase (2464 mm) it has the roomiest cabin in its category, despite its moderate length (only 3445 mm).

The overhangs are very short, due to its rear engine: the pedestrian safety laws prescribe a certain minumum distance between the engine and the external “skin”, a distance that ceases to be necessary in this case.

Ecosustainability is guaranteed by its lightweight highly efficient engine, and by an overall lightweight formulation of the car (offering higher fuel efficiency).

4. We were very impressed by the widening of the tracks in relation to the overall body dimensions. It makes the wheels look huge, despite their standard size for a modern car: the car looks lower and wider, without appearing too eccessive. Will this esthetic feature be applied to future Volkswagen cars or was it purposely conceived for Up!’s shape and dimensions?

Volkswagen Up! Concept - design sketchI couldn’t imagine future VW’s not having this feature! Our emphasis on wheel arches emerging from a simple and continuous volume is one of the most important stilemas that are going to characterize VW future productions.

Not a foregone focus on the “shoulder”, which is typical of other automakers, but rather on the main volume, to communicate overall solidity and tidyness, and on the wheels positioned at extremes, to convey a sense of stability and guarantee ground adherence.

I believe this is the best way to interpretate our brand’s design, making good use of the technical advantages offered by new packages.

5. What about the innovative tail gate, where a wide back window serves as a hatchback and includes other functional elements, arranged in a peculiar pattern? Will it be applied also to the series version or will it be simplified?

Volkswagen Up! ConceptThe UP!’s tail gate, besides being an interesting blend of product design and expressiveness, is a good example of “design to cost” ratio.

The layout of its elements is very simple, the hatchback is deliberately made of frameless glass to keep the weight down (as it doesn’t need a metal frame), the tail lights were positioned behind the glass, on the steady part of the body, for a back window contour without recesses.

Furthermore, the components of the tail lights are symmetrical. We intend to resort to this original solution also in our production car.

6. How much of its interesting interior functions will be feasible to be applied to the series production, with regards to its most expensive stylemarks? And from a stylistic viewpoint, will the current “minimal” aspect be preserved, or will the series version have more traditional interiors?

Most of them will be applied to the series version, making some tweaks, of course. Let’s just say that the look of the concept car might include some of the finest and most sophisticated, or “life style”, marks.

But the modularity of the macro-components forming the interiors are also suitable for more “minimal” and basic interpretations (more oriented to emerging markets, for example) without prejudicing its high aesthetic prestige.

7. Why are the mirrors perfectly round? Are they in any stylistic relationship to the headlight shape and to the central badge, or is there any other functional/aesthetic reason?

They are round because we started the project with the idea of having various symmetric components, for example the inner projector modules and the lights. Their stylistic relationship to the badge, which was intentionally emphasized, is based mainly on the need for harmony and general balance.

8. Many automakers are redefining their badges; unlike the Up!’s dimensions and display modes, its badge does not look too different from the historic one. Is it going to be changed? Will there be a restyling also for the Skoda badge (for exaple, entirely chromed)?

We will only make little twiddles in order to valorize its threedimensionality and visibility, as we already did with the Up!.

9. As for the Up!, we noticed a return to certain Volkswagen stilemas taken from the brand’s history, although with a modern reinterpretation: the “horizontality” of the front end lines in relation to the recent “vertical” chromed grilles, the VW brand’s centrality with respect to design definition, the use of simple, rational lines, etc.. In some ways (the profile of the greenhouse, the huge post pillar and the back window through which much of the interior is visible) there seems to be a reminition of 70’s Volkswagens, like the first Golf, or the Polo / Audi 50 by Bertone. Will these guidelines establish the upcoming Volkswagen’s DNA, from next Golf VI on?

VW Up! Concept I’m glad to hear this beautiful analysis!
We worked so much on the car’s aesthetic, for it to be the first complete expression of the “new course”, and above all for its formal language to be self-explaining.

Design is a meta-language and I openly advocate for an approach to design reflecting every purpose and every choice in a clear and comprehensibile way, without rhetoric or over-styling. Quotations are fine when they are discreet and do not prejudice the object’s modernity.

The concept UP! is the “door opener” of the new VW generation, and we will apply the same principles to the rest of the series. Especially our criterion of  simplicity and of “less is more”, that is undoubtedly in countertendency in regards to the need for surprise, the eccess of baroquisms and the use of adornments that characterize today’s trend.

10. If Volkswagen returns to a more rational and “composed” style, in agreement with the principle of a well-built and functional vehicle, what direction will Skoda design take in the future?

We are working on an evolutional development of Skoda Design, without sudden discontinuities. Today this brand has a clear identity and personality, that make it much more easily recognizable than its competitors.
I believe it has a great creative potential.

11. One last question: how… “Italian” and how “German” is the spirit of Up!’s design?

This project, which is crucial for the future of VW, is obviously the result of an integrated work, where the brand’s typically German culture couldn’t help emerging; in fact, this was our commitment right from the start.

Apart from the fact that I’m Italian, as is also Walter De Silva, there’s an aspect I would like to remark: I really believe in the opportunity to interpretate this brand in “industrial” rather than banally “automotive” terms (that’s to say without running into commonplaces that are typical of automotive design).

Brionvega Algol TV The Brionvega Algol TV – Source: magris.it

Today, Volkswagen is probably one of the few brands that lives up to its name. And I believe in the need for inspirations going beyond their own D.N.A.

That’s why I found Italian 70’s design inspiring, especially the so-called “Tecno-chic” style (a definition that I like using also to describe VW’s new aesthetic) a design that, thanks to the skilled work carried out by such architects as Zanuso, Sapper, the Castiglioni brothers (to mention only a few) made the Italian approach to style and to “social aesthetic” famous in the world.

There’s nothing I equate to UP! like the famous Brionvega “Algol” TV, that I consider an everlasting artwork.

read the original interview in Italian on Virtual Car

About Flavio Manzoni

Flavio Manzoni was born in Nuoro (Sardinia, Italy), on January 7, 1965, and holds a Degree in Architecture, specialising in Industrial Design, from the University of Florence.

After gaining professional experience in the fields of architecture and industrial design, Manzoni joined Fiat Auto in 1993 as a designer at the Lancia Styling Centre, taking responsibility for interiors in 1996.

From 1999 to 2001, Manzoni filled a similar position at the Seat Styling Centre in Spain. While he was at Seat, Manzoni worked on the interiors of the Tango, Salsa, Leon/Toledo and Altea.

In November 2001, Manzoni returned to Fiat Auto, as head of the Lancia Styling Centre. In March 2004, he took responsibility for the Fiat Styling Centre.

Among other elements, he has developed the interiors of the Lancia Lybra, Thesis, Maserati 3200 GT and the Dialogos concept car, coordinating the projects for the Lancia Ypsilon and Musa and the Granturismo, Stilnovo and Fulvia Coupe concept cars. Where the Fiat brand is concerned, he has worked on the projects for the new Stilo, the Multipla, and the Palio face-lift.

He then performed the same function at SEAT until 2002, when he resumed responsibility for Fiat Design, Lancia Design and Fiat Group Light Commercial Vehicles Design.

Manzoni moved to Design at the Audi brand group on December 1, 2006.

(Source: Virtual Car)

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