Whenever I encounter an opinion on automotive design contrary to mine, I’m tempted to repeat what Lt. Frank Drebin said to the villain, Quenten Hapsburg, in the fine 1991 flick, Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear.
“We can handle this like mature men, right Mr. Poopy Pants?”
Actually, there is no sense arguing when there is a difference of opinion over a car’s looks. You can’t make someone like what they don’t.
But while there is a definite proliferation of styles and designs, and a bevy of absolutely wonderful executions, there doesn’t seem to be any overriding theme to automotive design these days. At least when you compare it to eras where you got a clearer sense of what designers were trying to accomplish; like in the 1930s, when the art deco ideas were pursued, or the 1950s, when cars dramatized the concept of highway travel.
In the 1970s, Giorgetto Giugiaro (later named auto designer of the last century), messed with people’s heads, by pursuing an auto design language diametrically opposed to the current design of the day. Those cars were comprised of nothing but sharp angles and creases, and were sometimes uncharitably referred to as the “folding paper” school of design.
“Giugiaro had a definite style, a definite direction,” says Paul Deutschman, who heads up Canada’s only automotive design firm, the internationally known Deutschman Design of Montreal (deutschmandesign.com). “Giugiaro in turn influenced other designers, and you ended up with an era with a very strong visual identity.”
Deutschman feels we don’t get those strong design currents anymore, because everyone seems to take a bit from everyone else, and tries to make it their own, rather than embarking on a separate and unique direction.
“If you go into a styling studio in any automaker, you will find stylists from America, Korea, Germany… And those people move around from company to company. All this creates what I would call a design melting pot.”
One of the forces pulling design in the future will be the continued quest for more fuel efficiency. The last time that happened, the same aerodynamic shapes kept cropping up in the portfolios of various automakers.
“We have the risk of that happening again,” says Paul. “But that just puts the challenge more firmly in the court of the designer. … It’s up to the designer to come up with something that just oozes with character, but still fulfills its mechanical obligations.”
He cites the original and current Mini as a great example of the above philosophy. “The packaging on the Mini was optimized, and it was an efficient vehicle, and it also happened to charm people to death… That’s the kind of thing that has to happen…”