Creative Spirit

We talk with Flavio Manzoni about what drives him, his role in the Styling Center, and Ferrari’s design process.

Photo: Creative Spirit 1
June 6, 2024

After graduating from the University of Florence, where he studied architecture and industrial design, Flavio Manzoni started his professional career at Lancia, in 1993. Within three years he was the company’s head of interior design and, after a brief stint at SEAT, he returned to Lancia in 2001 as its design director.

Manzoni was promoted to design boss of Fiat in 2004, then in 2007 became the artistic director of the Volkswagen Group. His most famous move came in 2010, when he joined Ferrari as Chief Design Officer and created the company’s in-house Styling Center. The first project Manzoni worked on in Maranello was the FF, and in the years since he’s overseen the design of numerous other models, ranging from the LaFerrari and FXX K to the 812 Superfast, 296 GTB, and, most recently, the 12Cilindri.

We spoke with the 59-year-old Manzoni in his offices at the Ferrari factory in Maranello.

After numerous years dedicated to design, do you still actively engage in design work or have you primarily taken on a managerial role?

I have always believed that drawing and design are synonymous, which is why I have never stopped drawing.

At Ferrari, the styling process typically takes anywhere from 13 to 18 months. In some cases, it can be much longer; for example, the Purosangue required a whopping five years of planning. During this period, interactions with the project team are numerous. Initially, a large part of the Styling Center team is involved. Then, based on the selected proposals, the team gradually narrows down to a precise group of individuals responsible for completing the project.

From the outset, I personally suggest to the designers the direction of research, clarifying how the design and Ferrari’s linguistic codes will evolve in new projects and gradually towards new generations. This is a reflection I constantly make.

Photo: Creative Spirit 2

The automobile is indeed a complex object. It is formed by various elements, various components that are the result of choices made over a long period, elements that contribute to giving a very precise identity to the product.

As you can imagine, leading a Styling Center requires evaluations on different levels. From the managerial level, aimed at resolving issues concerning the team and facilities, to the design level, which involves continuous negotiation with other departments because it is linked to technical aspects and project feasibility.

In the case of us designers, there is an even more important level: the creative one, where the use of imagination and the ability to envision the shapes of the future become fundamental. The aspect of proportions, harmony, and volume balance would require an entire chapter.

What needs to be emphasized, however, is that in the creative field, there are no fixed rules or formulas to strictly follow. Details are also very important. The eye, personal sensitivity, and daily training are the elements that lead to giving a certain tension to the volumes. Mies Van Der Rohe, in this regard, said, “God is in the details.”

How do you collaborate with the designers and engineers on your team?

The interaction is continuous, daily. I am a person who always works with a sense of urgency. When I imagine a project, I can’t wait for it to materialize. My work is therefore always a bit of a race, but in the positive sense of the term.

My interactions with the work teams focus on two fundamental aspects. First, that of creativity. In this regard, I am reminded of a beautiful phrase by Albert Einstein, who said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” I find it a very fitting phrase, especially in the case of designing a Ferrari, where you cannot simply imagine an abstract form and bring it into reality. Instead, you have to bring it down to the project’s objectives and the characteristics that the car must have, also from a product point of view. A Ferrari therefore takes shape little by little, through a continuous process of searching for beauty at its highest level.

Photo: Creative Spirit 3

Then there is the interaction with the Technical Management team, which takes place through a series of meetings held in front of a screen, in our virtual rooms. What we use is the method of “morphing,” which I introduced myself at Ferrari and which we actually apply differently from what happens in other Styling Centers.

In real-time, during meetings with engineering colleagues, we make continuous modifications to the current model. This allows us to evaluate not only how the shape changes with varying constraints, but also to demonstrate how one engineering choice over another can significantly affect the car’s aesthetic appearance. The morphing method thus proves to be an effective way to conduct the inevitable process of “negotiation” towards convergence on the final result.

How many professionals are part of your team?

The Styling Center consists of approximately 100 to 120 professionals. This number depends on the ongoing projects and workloads on styling models, which require the use of specialized personnel in a succession that involves a certain number of loops between the virtual and physical model.

The team consists mainly of car designers, specializing in exterior or interior design, graphic designers, and experts in Color & Trim and Materials. A large part of the team is then dedicated to virtual modeling, with the task of modeling every visible part of the car, including the engine compartment. A team of physical modelers is also responsible for creating clay or hard-material models on a 1:1 scale, both for exteriors and interiors of the car. Staff personnel are responsible for Design Management and Control, to meet the assigned timing and budget.

Of all the Ferraris you have designed, which one are you particularly proud of?

It is always difficult to answer this question; I cannot choose just one Ferrari. However, to paraphrase our founder Enzo Ferrari, who said, “The most important victory is the one I have yet to achieve,” I can say that the projects I am most attached to are those that have yet to come into being. They are those into which I put the maximum passion because they allow me to express new concepts, to create something that does not yet exist.

Photo: Creative Spirit 4

By nature, but also because my profession pushes me in a constant search for perfection and excellence, I tend to look for the flaws in things. So I am particularly proud when the projects we are developing have a more linear gestation, when they are born, so to speak, “in one stroke of the pencil.” This is a fundamental aspect for the creative process.

Among the Ferrari projects developed under my direction and that were born under more favorable conditions, I would undoubtedly mention the Monza SP1/SP2, the Daytona SP3, and the 296 GTB. I am also very proud of the results achieved with the Purosangue, a very challenging project that, by exploring an unprecedented architecture for the Ferrari world, presented significant risks—both in terms of the brand interpretation and public consensus.

What is your all-time favorite car?

I cannot mention just one model; in reality, there are dozens of cars that I love. Among Ferraris, I find the 330 P3/4 magnificent, cars designed to win on the track but surprising for their harmonious, attractive, voluptuous shape.

In general, I adore the “dream cars” of the 1960s and ’70s like the Ferrari Modulo, the Lancia Stratos Zero by Gandini, the Maserati Boomerang by Giugiaro, to name a few. They were fascinating cars because they were futuristic, the result of the experience and skill of Italian coachbuilders, true artists, endowed with great talent and the art of “know-how.”

What are the elements of design in general that fascinate you the most?

The elements of fascination are numerous; it is difficult to summarize them. However, I am reminded of a phrase by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that I believe explains my thoughts well: “True happiness comes from the joy of creating something new.” It’s precisely the magic of bringing something to life that does not yet exist that spurs me on at every moment; it’s the excitement of seeing the fruit of my imagination take shape, evolve into something attractive, suggestive.

Also from Issue 215

  • 12Cilindri first look
  • Ferrari execs talk 12Cilindri
  • 412 P re-creation
  • Future of Ferrari mechanics and restorers
  • Johnny Kaminskey interview
  • F1: Gang of Three
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