How VR, 3D modeling, and craftsmanship help Ducati design alluring motorcycles

how a ducati motorcycle goes from sketch to production design 12

The passion that fuels Ducati’s design studio is palpable.

The firm’s small, tightly-knit team of stylists skillfully blend craftsmanship and technology to create some of the hottest, most alluring motorcycles ever to carve a corner. They’re based on the outskirts of Bologna in northern Italy, the town the company has called home since its inception as a humble manufacturer of radio components in 1926. Digital Trends got a rare opportunity to sneak behind the scenes and learn how a Ducati goes from a sketch to a roaring, race-winning production model.

Every project big or small starts with a concise set of guidelines. Designers, engineers, and executives meet in brainstorming sessions to outline the bike’s target positioning, and the technical specifications required to place it right where they want it. During this phase, the team in charge of development incorporates market analysis, competitor analysis, and customer analysis data. They paint a picture of a bike that doesn’t exist yet, a task that’s more difficult than it sounds. Giving it a nickname helps.

Ducati called the original Diavel it introduced in 2010 the Mega Monster. It was a design-driven bike that blended elements of different motorcycles, and it took the brand into a segment it had never competed in before. Riders loved it, so executives had solid foundations to build on when they started writing the guidelines that shaped the Diavel 1260 introduced in 2018. When they knew what they wanted, they transferred the design brief to the design department, and sparked a heated internal competition.

how a ducati motorcycle goes from sketch to production design fullwide

Paper, .JPG, and VR

Andrea Ferraresi, Ducati’s charismatic design director, runs a tight ship that balances the future and the past without tilting too far on either side of the spectrum. The studio he oversees is smaller than a car company’s design department. And yet, there are no freelancers; everything is done in-house, and nothing is outsourced. Before diving into the design process, he told Digital Trends every designer that reports to him needs to learn how to design a Ducati.

“The bike is sexy if the people present at its unveiling walk up to it and start touching it.”

“There is a golden rule to apply: the design must be sexy. How do we know? Well, the bike is sexy if the people present at its unveiling walk up to it and start touching it,” he explained.

Designing a Ducati also requires a very thorough knowledge of what makes a motorcycle tick. Mechanical parts normally hidden on a car – like the exhaust system, the engine, and the suspension components – are visible on a motorcycle, and they’re very much a part of the design. Stylists and engineers must work hand-in-hand to reach a solution that suits both sides.

After examining the design brief, up to six stylists independently begin the design process by putting together what Ferraresi refers to as a mood board. It’s a deep well of inspiration they tap into the second their pencil meets a blank sheet of paper. The photos on the mood board answer questions. If the bike was a car, which one would it be? If it was in a movie, which one would it be in, and who would ride it? Architecture and fashion items also appear on the mood board. On the Diavel 1260’s mood board, we saw photos of cars (including the Bugatti Chiron and the Porsche 911), high-end watches, and even motorcycles made by Ducati’s competitors.

“Tech doesn’t enter the equation until the designers are fully satisfied with what they’ve drawn and ready to move on.”

The early sketches evolve over the course of one to two months as designers experiment with different shapes and proportions. The bike’s length, its height, the shape of its fuel tank, and the size of its wheels are all subject to change during this phase. This is all done by hand. Technology doesn’t enter the equation until the designers are fully satisfied with what they’ve drawn and ready to move on.

When the sketches are finalized, each one is loaded into Photoshop for fine-tuning. They’re then shown to a hand-selected group of 20 Ducati employees who are seasoned motorcycle riders. Ferraresi explained this phase is like a customer clinic without the risk of high-profile leaks. The members of the panel are asked to point out what they like about the bike, but more significantly what they don’t like.

Every sixteenth of an inch makes a difference. Ferraresi told us designing a motorcycle is like designing a car interior because there are a lot of details “that have to play together like an orchestra.” And, damn, it sounds wonderful when it comes together.

Projects sometimes stay at the Photoshop stage for three months. It’s important to set the height of the seat and the handlebars, among other parameters, before moving on. When needed, Ducati puts two designs in a virtual reality room located in its design studio to get a better idea of which one looks best.

how a ducati motorcycle goes from sketch to production design 36

Only one design makes the transition from a digital CAD file to a clay model. Company CEO Claudio Domenicali (no relation to Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali) helps select the finalist. The winning designer continues working on the bike, while the designers whose work isn’t selected start another project.

20 years ago, Ducati designers started with a solid block of clay (a material which costs as much as meat, according to Ferraresi) and sculpted it into a bike for days on end. In 2019, they feed the CAD data to a milling machine which works on its own to create what’s best described as a rough draft. This practice is common on the automotive side of design, too. Sculptors then smooth out the rough edges by hand, and make tweaks when necessary. Seeing a clay model of the bike can reveal a part that’s too sharp, for example, or a seat that’s a few sixteenths of an inch too tall.

Ducati uses Point Cloud software to create the motorcycle equivalent of system restore points on a PC. Thousands of tiny, black dots positioned all over the clay model are recorded by a scanner to create a digital 3D image of the motorcycle. The prototype – a work in progress – is scanned weekly, so designers can go back in time if they make a modification that they decide they don’t like.

3D-printing sometimes enters the design process. It’s notably used to test how an engine fits into a chassis. As of 2019, Ducati 3D-prints parts for prototypes, and for some of its race bikes, but it doesn’t send 3D-printed parts to its assembly line because the technology isn’t suitable for volume production yet.

Ducati uses Point Cloud software to create the motorcycle equivalent of system restore points on a PC.

Point Cloud technology also helps designers turn the final clay model into a 3D digital model used to build the first prototypes. By this point in the process, key aspects of the bike – including its technical specifications, its shape, and its dimensions – are frozen, so changes are costly and time-consuming.

While one team builds prototypes, another uses the 3D scan to put together a color palette for the paint and the upholstery, and to design the bike’s emblems. This is the last leap before the start of series production, and it’s one of the most stressful parts of the whole process. “The important part is to not lose control of the design from clay to production,” Ferraresi affirmed.

The bike is then put through its paces on road and track before it receives the green light for production. Seeing it on the road for the first time is one of the highlights of a designer’s career. “It reminds us we are not creating stress or meetings, but motorcycles,” explained Giovanni Antonacci, the man responsible for the Diavel 1260.

how a ducati motorcycle goes from sketch to production design 13

Future-proofing Ducati

Ferraresi played a key role in creating this process; for example, he tirelessly pushed the design and engineering departments to work together. He’s satisfied with what he has created, but he is already looking ahead to the challenges that await him and his team in the coming years.

Ducati is developing its first all-electric model, which will likely compete in the same space as the Harley-Davidson Livewire. He told Digital Trends that “electrification will change bike design more than it will change car design” because an electric motorcycle doesn’t need a fuel tank or an exhaust. Ducati is also working with Bosch to bring electronic driving aids like adaptive cruise control to the world of motorcycles, so Ferraresi is simultaneously seeking ways to integrate sensors into his designs.

“It will be a problem,” admitted Ferraresi. “It’s not so easy, but you have to face it.”

Product Review

The Division 2 brings the most fun we've ever had to Washington, D.C.

After 55 hours with The Division 2, it’s clear that Ubisoft has improved on the original in almost every way. The world is richly detailed, the story missions are wonderful, gunplay and enemy design are great, and the endgame content is…

The Division 2 offers nothing but a funhouse mirror of America

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 improves on the design shortcomings of the original game in several different ways, but its version of Washington D.C. is completely removed from reality.

Tesla gives us a cryptic look at its cyberpunk, Blade Runner-inspired pickup

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself. It could make its debut in 2019.

Saving for a vacation? Here are the best apps to help you manage your wealth

Looking to start managing your money, but don't care for intricate software or spreadsheets? Lucky for you, we made a list of the best budgeting apps designed to help you rein in your expenditures.

Waymo boosts robo-taxi plans with new service center in Arizona

Waymo has announced plans for a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, that will help to service, maintain, and grow its fleet of autonomous Waymo One cars. The vehicles operate as part of the company's robo-taxi ridesharing service.

Vivint’s Car Guard keeps tabs on your vehicle when you’re not in it

A simple plug-in that you can place in just about any vehicle, Vivint's new Car Guard will automatically detect if your car is bumped, towed, or stolen and will alert you about it.
Product Review

The Ferrari Portofino is the super stallion you’ll want to drive every day

With the introduction of the Portofino, Ferrari addresses the California T’s stylistic shortcomings while improving comfort, convenience, and performance. There’s little “entry-level” about this super stallion.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe gets a tech upgrade, keeps quirky styling

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe debuts at the 2019 New York Auto Show with an upgraded infotainment system that incorporates Mercedes' digital assistant. The SUV launches later this year with turbocharged four-cylinder power.

This modified Land Rover Discovery is heading to Africa to help fight malaria

A Land Rover Discovery will be used by the Mobile Malaria Project for a 3,900-mile trek across Africa to study malaria. The SUV is equipped with a mobile gene-sequencing laboratory, as well as everything necessary for serious off-roading.

Volvo wants to use speed limiters, in-car cameras, and data to reduce crashes

Volvo believes new tech is the best way to improve car safety. The Swedish automaker will let owners set speed limits when loaning out their cars, install cameras to monitor drivers, and use data to design better safety features.

BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe teased way ahead of its November debut

The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is coming to the United States, eventually. The new compact BMW won't be unveiled until the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. The Gran Coupe will be based on a front-wheel drive platform.

Tesla lets you skip the dealership, order a car from the comfort of your couch

Tesla has always bypassed traditional dealerships, and it has now adopted an online-only sales model that lets customers configure and order their car without leaving their couch. Here's what you need to know.

Autonomous shuttle rides coming to New York City via Optimus Ride

Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in NY City will soon be able to make their way around the 300-acre industrial park in Optimus Ride's self-driving shuttles. The tech startup says it's the first trial of its kind in the state.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group uses Microsoft cloud platform for connected cars

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is launching a new cloud platform for its cars. Based on Microsoft Azure, the Alliance Intelligent Cloud will enable features like connected services and over-the-air updates.