Inside Ducati Motorcycle's Design Center

Ducati's Centro Stile gives a glimpse into a very secretive process

Ducati Motorcycle's Centro Stile door.
Design can happen anywhere. It’s a rare exercise that creates parity between a clean white sheet of paper in an artist’s loft and a half-damp bar napkin. For Ducati, design happens in a bright white and buttoned-down studio just off the factory floor in Borgo Panigale.Ducati

The effort implies the studio is focused on designing this one machine; it's not, and it hasn't been for some time because the factory just outside the doors is already stamping out the new Diavel 1260. But Ducati has set the other work aside for the afternoon, and the quick trip inside the Centro Stile gets us a rare glimpse inside a very secretive process.

Ducati designs its machines in-house. There are 20 motorcycle and accessory designers, and another 10 who work on apparel. They work under sealed-up opaque windows, at now-vacant workstations with big tablets and desks that show glimpses of their occupants’ personalities. Racing trinkets, Star Wars toys. Many are in the office slowly tinkering, turning the finished design of the Diavel over and over and over in their hands like it’s a smooth pebble. The rest of the design shop is displaced elsewhere, along with their sensitive work.

Sketches of Ducati motorcycle.
Over 20 people work on motorcycle and accessory design inside Ducati’s Italy HQ.Ducati

You'd be forgiven thinking the full-scale models just inside the door are the real thing—a Hypermotard, a Panigale V4, and a Desert Sled, every one a dead ringer. But trail your fingers over any one of the machines and you'll find their gas tanks are unnaturally warm to the touch and their seats rock-hard, and if you knock on them, they sound solid like wood because every one of them is rapid-prototyped, made of plastic and foam.

Ducati design studio materials.
Ducati’s design studio is loaded with expensive materials that are stylish and butch.Ducati

The illusion continues. There are beautiful Ducati Monster tanks gleaming and lined up along the top of a shelving unit. There’s a long mood board stuffed to the edges with a deep blend of expensive things that are stylish and butch. Swatches of leather and trim and brushed metals from Bugattis and Barracudas and Bonneville racers. Car parts and bike parts and watch parts. Every desk is neatly tidied, every element pointed toward the latest iteration of Ducati’s new Diavel 1260. It all seems very curated, and it is. Just for us.

Ducati design in clay.
Ducati works in the same clay as most design houses. It’s expensive, but invaluable when it comes time to see the concept in physical space.Ducati

Andrea Ferraresi took over the reins of Ducati’s design training and, with a thesis completed in Ferrari’s wind tunnels, he’s analytical when talking through the process of designing the Diavel with Giovanni Antonacci. It was Antonacci who penned this updated machine. They wander through a mostly linear process. Those big mood boards inspire sketches, which turn into digital renderings, then clay models. It’s competitive. Designers across the shop will scratch out their best ideas, but stage by stage those designs will be winnowed away.

Antonacci’s design is competing with one from Jérémy Faraud, a young French designer who penned the big Scrambler. They’re both clear evolutions of the Diavel; Antonacci’s is more fluid and essential, while Faraud’s shows hints of an ’80s sportbike.

Ducati uses smoky red clay, layering it over the hardware of the motorcycle to see how it looks in real life.
Ducati uses smoky red clay, layering it over the hardware of the motorcycle to see how it looks in real life.Ducati

They call the muscle and bones of a motorcycle the engineering package, and Ducati’s engineers aren’t waiting around to develop it. New data enters the picture as the underpinnings of the machine mature parallel to the work in the Centro Stile. By the time the Diavel is ready to become a digital model, there are real numbers for the wheelbase and the rider’s reach to the bars. The engine has been in development for a year, and it’s on the road in a test mule. The Diavel progresses.

“The exterior of a motorcycle is designed like the interior of the car,” Ferraresi says. It’s because of the exposed details, the necessity of touch. He’s proud of their materials, that if something looks like titanium, it is titanium.

Artist at Ducati Motorcycle's Centro Stile.
Centro Stile is a studio in the truest sense. Stacks of materials lie within arm’s reach while artists work in mediums both modern and as ancient as Italy itself.Ducati

But first, it’s clay. The same smoky red clay used in design shops across the world. It’s layered on over the engineering package so designers can see how everything interacts, and it’s expensive. “It costs like meat,” Ferraresi says, then he looks to Antonacci to check himself. “Not good meat, from Tuscany. Medium-cost meat.” Antonacci nods. Consensus in hand, the pair step back and forth over a metal track that runs perpendicular to the length of the room.

Big pedestals on each side of the track carry optical measuring tools. The finished clay model is covered in little black and white stickers, and those machines translate the organic shapes of the clay into numbers, which designers and technicians turn into a complex 3D wire frame in software called Autodesk Alias. It’s yet another transition from analog to digital, but unlike with a recording, resolution and detail are added with every pass. The lines are ever more refined, a little closer to real.

Ducati Design Director Andrea Ferraresi examines his team’s work; Designer Giovanni Antonacci penned the Diavel; Product Manager Stefano Tarabusi.
Left to right Ducati Design Director Andrea Ferraresi examines his team's work; Designer Giovanni Antonacci penned the Diavel; Product Manager Stefano Tarabusi.Ducati

An unhealthy houseplant blocks the path to a separate room in the Centro Stile where rapid prototyping and 3D printing machines work away. They translate a digital Diavel into one of the models that are so startlingly wooden. A final model is milled from this last design. It’s the one that Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali and members of the board will sign off on. They’ll give it their corporate benediction and freeze the design, like a test proctor insisting it’s time to put pencils down.

The last model is a workhorse, a hanger for paint and accessories for the last few yards across the finish line of design. But by then, most of the Centro Stile has moved on to the next project, doing the challenging, thoughtful work of design. And along the way, maybe they took the time to sit down at a bar stool in Bologna to toast their creation—and maybe doodle the next one on the back of a bar napkin.

Ducati’s new Diavel 1260.
From prototype to production ready machine. This is Ducati’s new Diavel 1260.Ducati