Search This Blog



car design got boring

The Paris Motor Show took place last week, and once again it showed us that cars are dull, ugly and predictable. Thirty years of safety and environmental regulations have eliminated all design freedom. The designers are not to be envied.
But while the petrol heads have ended up in a rut, there is plenty of progress from mobility start-ups who are developing electric cars and car-sharing concepts. We should expect cars from Silicon Valley to look different. But how exactly? After a century of car design, can a totally different visual language emerge?
Shocking comparising of contemporary station wagons of 8 different brands
It's easy to believe that cars have reached their full potential technically, stylistically and culturally. A modern car can circle the earth five times and reach maximum speed easily, yet it rarely needs a visit to the garage. Petrol consumption in engines has halved over the past half century, and driving has become exponentially safer. In the past you hit a lamp post and died; now your car can overturn and you can walk away unharmed. Moreover, today's car is more comfortable and easier to handle.
Experimentation within the auto industry has ceased
All those achievements are down to designers who have done their best. Cage frames, airbags, anti-lock braking systems, crumple zones, he
ad supports and weight reductions have made cars smarter, cheaper and more economical. What a pity that aesthetics have deteriorated along the way, for today's cars are ugly and incredibly boring.

experimental approaches to the 5th door
You cannot blame designers, because the margins within which they have to design have become so narrow that there is scarcely any room for change. As sales have become increasingly stagnant, experimentation within the auto industry has ceased – in sixty years the automobile has transformed from wild, expressive and visionary to obedient, regressive and compliant.
All major car manufacturers make five incontestable models. Attempts to launch other concepts often flop, as we saw with the Fiat Multipla, RenaultAvantime and Subaru SVX. Producers keep faith in what sells well. Cars resemble one another because there is so little technical variation, with most of them featuring a monocoque structure, front-wheel drive, and a water-cooled engine at the front. The wind tunnel does the rest in creating uniform shapes. Details don't reveal much variation either. Everything from a cheap Fiat to a pricey Mercedes features the same connection between rear door and floor. All wheels are roughly the same size and clearly visible. The aesthetic values that apply to cars have become more uniform.
Manufacturers who have never produced a combustible engine are turning the automobile world upside down
What great vision there is today comes from mobility start-ups, whose motto may as well be "the car is dead, long live the car". New car manufacturers who have never produced a combustible engine are turning the automobile world upside down. In the world of Silicon Valley it seems that consumers don't necessarily even need to own a car. Apps likeSnappCar and Uber already enable different kinds of car use. Newer car sharing initiatives like DriveNow and Car2Go are growing rapidly and car-poolers can team up through BlaBlaCar, Avego and PickupPal.

Automobile manufacturers like Tesla and Byd make nothing but electric cars and have a totally different company culture. Likewise, motorbike manufacturers like Zero and Brammo don't use any petrol whatsoever, and so have a much clearer focus. These companies resemble computer firms more than car factories. An electric vehicle contains up to a million lines of program, so it's no surprise that newcomers all operate out of Silicon Valley, since proximity to developers is vital. Apple, for example, is just around the corner from Tesla.
Electric power is a major advancement for the quality of life in cities. Noise, particulates, carbon emissions and exhaust smells are all reduced, and centralised generation of energy is much cleaner. Politicians – sometimes begrudgingly – agree, which is why electric cars are sometimes allowed on bus lanes and have designated parking spaces and their owners pay hardly any tax. A "full tank" costs just five euros.
A new design repertoire cannot be invented overnight
On top of that, drivers make a better impression, especially morally. I drive an electric motorcycle myself and I notice that it's also a more social vehicle. Asking for directions or pulling away doesn't cause a stink or lots of noise or intimidate anybody. Yet although you now can step out of an electric car and hold your head up high outside a hip cafe, it's important that everybody can recognise what type of car it is – that it is not of the old guard.

There are therefore plenty of reasons to give electric cars a distinct appearance. But the challenge is not that simple. A new design repertoire cannot be invented overnight. So what opportunities are there to make these cars stand out?
Two technical differences offer pointers. Electric motors require hardly any cooling, which means that they do not need ventilation openings. BothBMW i3 and Renault have already detailed cars with a distinctly closed grille. In addition, electric motors are quiet, which is why Renault has added new sounds for parking and slow driving.
If technology doesn't present much in the way of opportunity, then there is always ideology. Society believes in electric vehicles and wants this to be the future, so a futurist look is appropriate. Futurist style characteristics in the world of cars are the droplet-shaped bodywork, closed rear-wheel arches, and a smoothly curved back, all of which we see in the HondaInsight, and Volkswagen XL1. Fifteen years ago there was the General Motors Ev1, a radically different and futurist design. But the petrol heads in the GM boardroom got scared, and the popular car died a mysterious early death. Futuristic cars have flopped remarkably often.
Citroen Concept car: Karin (1980)
The danger with futurism in design, however, is that it can frighten off customers. The design language is too far ahead of consumer acceptance. Futuristic cars – even from star designers – have flopped remarkably often. Just look at the Pininfarina svx, the Citroën SM, DeLorean DMC12, Tucker Torpedo and the above-mentioned Ev1.
That's why the Tesla-S looks only moderately progressive. "A car like this needs to have a conventional appeal as well", says Tesla's design chief Franz von Holzhausen. The bodywork shape is deliberately conservative. They don't hold back, however, when it comes to materials (97 per cent aluminium), interiors or coatings. A second back seat provides space for two children seated "the other way round" – a design that had never been done before.
In their detailing, too, Tesla cars are decidedly futuristic. The paintwork is coated twice to make it "look like glass". Interior functions are operated on a big touchscreen, and door handles appear only after the car has been unlocked, just like in Star Wars.
Next year a model with two wing-doors – the ultimate futurist device – comes on the market. Tesla, the most important innovator, is not holding back. And that's good news. The future looks bright. Because believe me, very soon the automobile industry will be just as expressive, visionary and wild as it once was. Only this time it will be electric.


More “designweeks" than weeks

Over a hundred design fairs and festivals are taking place around the world. We now have more “designweeks" than there are weeks in a year. The omnipresent branding activities that come along resemble an annoying commercial break while watching a good film. With all festivals growing in attendance, we must ask ourselves if that growth is a blessing or a curse?

The 'Queen of the Fairs' lives in Milan; the Salone del Mobile is the most influential design fair. With the most contributing designers, producers, exhibitions and press, the fair functions in the design world as the ‘New Year.’ Product introductions are calibrated to make their launch here, not making the date will lead to an entire year delay in the development of a design.

‘Salone di Marketing’
The fair, with the endless peripheral program, has broadened her appeal immensely, opening a door to the massive marketing and branding industry. Designers readily complain about the overload of commercial activities. Jasper Morrison speaks of "Salone di Marketing,” as he does more and more tiring press and public performances each year. It mimics the annoying commercial break while watching a good film, and as we all know, when there are to many commercial breaks in a film you end up not watching it all.

According to brand-theory, acceptance in design circles is the best start for a broader acceptance over time; hence more brands want to be associated with design. The connection to creativity and design very often has to be brutally forced; three new colors on a 50-year-old percolator being presented as ‘new designs.’ Some brands organize designer parties and extra curricular activities to standout in the scene. Another cunning way to connect with the design world is to give stuff away; copious amounts of drinks, brochures, and eatables are now being handed out at design fairs. As a result I recently sat in an unsolicited whiskey tasting during Design Indaba, in Cape Town. Or in Milan there is always somewhere to get free Gin from a brand that wants to be perceived as the ‘designer-gin.’

Meanwhile the city is literally trampled under foot by the design branding. The marketing efforts are fuelling a temporary gentrification process: areas of the city, that in the past exposed upcoming designers, have built a reputation for being a fashionable locality, and now have transformed into branding zones with many standardised brand-presentations. Displays by telecom providers, car manufacturers, and the food industry are materializing in places where a year before was an innovative design label. Serious curation is needed here to defend a sense of quality. The fair organisers would be advantageous to seek an anti-gentrification policy, as being used in cities like Berlin. 


De eerste design-afvallige

Terwijl wij 20 jaar geleden elkaar nog de koppen in sloegen of ons beroep nou ontwerpen of vormgeven moest heten . En de term Design louter gebruikten als bijvoeglijk naamwoord voor iets ‘overontworpens’, iets ‘sliks’, dat vast verkocht werd door Alessi, rukte het Angelsaksische gebruik va het begrip op. „Design kun je ook als werkwoord gebruiken“ leerden we van de Amerikanen. Nederland schrok wakker. Design Als paraplubegrip, als umbrella term: oeioeioei.

Zonder dat we het in de gaten hadden was de wereld ineens geglobaliseerd. De lokale stammenstrijd tussen ontwerpers en vormgevers werd beëindigd. De laatste kemphanen uit BNO, de KIO, de Gio, Premsela en DDFA keken elkaar aan en vroegen zich af waar ze zich in hemelsnaam al die tijd druk over hadden gemaakt. Een situatie die we kenden van de Nederlands Hervormden en de Protestanten. Wie weet waar dat dispuut over ging?

Maar er veranderde voor de voormalige kemphanen nóg een paradigma. De ambassadeurs van de design-lobbyclubs hoefden opeens géén voet meer tussen de deur te zetten als zij de design boodschap kwamen brengen bij overheden en bedrijfsleven. De design Jehova's  waren jaar in jaar uit langs de velden getrokken om ongelovigen van de kracht van de creatieve industrie te overtuigen. Of het nou in Harderwijk, Hamburg, of Ghangzou was, bij het MKB, de koningin of in de EU,  de boodschap was  altijd dezelfde: Designers kunnen bést wel wat. Kijk er eens naar, het zal je verbazen

Stelt u het zich eens voor hoe het voelt als je 20 jaar de voet tussen de deur hebt gezet en dat plotseling iedereen aan de ander kant zegt: “Ja ja, dat doen wij nu ook.  Dat weten we al. Dat implementeren wij nu. Daar zijn we a een poos mee bezig. U bent net iets te laat” en “vertel mij wat, ik was altijd al met design bezig”. Er valt ineens niets meer te zenden.
Het zendingswerk is definitief vervult. Het land is bekeerd. Iedereen wil design. Iedereen was al design, maar nu al helemaal.

Designers zitten bij DWDD aan tafel met hun 3d geprinte huizen, met hun smog-oplossingen, en met  hun belofte met creativiteit de plasticsoep te lijf te gaan. Designers zijn nationale helden met hun eigen 'image hotels'. Hun huizen staan voor veel geld te koop en ze treden op in pensioenreclames. Op de opening van de door Wanders gesponsorde Wanders reclameshow in het Stedelijk museum liep toet Het Gooi rond. Bontjasje, Pradaatje, etcetera. En ze zeiden allemaal in koor: ‘wat een talent heeft die jongen, mensen die dat niet zien, zijn zuurpruimen’. Je hebt filmsterren, rock-sterren, gewone BN-ers en designers. Ja, U hoeft het niet in elkaars oor te fluisteren. Met de vrouw in deze montage ben ik al 20 jaar getrouwd.