Cars, Design and Consumers
Design Highlights and Trends
By Diego García, Industrial Designer
The automobile is, since its creation, is an product that has fascinated several generations. It’s no longer a means of transport, but has become something else: art, passion, a status symbol and freedom. It is an object with soul and this is mostly due to design.
Car and design merge as no other product does. The automobile industry pioneered using design as a differentiation aspect, understanding the relationship between sales and the attractiveness of the models and innovating with concepts never applied in other industry. Among them, the ideas implemented in world’s first automotive design studio by Harley Earl for General Motors during 30’s. Without his contribution, standard basic techniques such sketching or clay modeling would not be the same.
Car design has been able to showcase the culture and the country in which it is manufactured, adapting to the needs and taste of the local population.
Forty years ago, a Cadillac, Volkswagen or Citroën were completely different vehicles that were born from specific situations. It contrasts with the current globalized world, where a few companies control the automotive market, applying standardized design and minimizing the importance of the user requirements in each continent. Ford is a clear example: in order to reduce costs, they decided to share platforms and sell the same designs around the world (eg. Ford Fusion-Mondeo, Escape-Kuga, EcoSport).
In this situation, companies have prioritized the differentiation based on the price and the status offered, leaving design aside. In the current post crisis –or crisis…- era where the distance between rich and poor is getting bigger, sales polarized. Low cost and Premium cars have increased, being detrimental to generalist companies, the former market leaders. The solution that many brands are opting for is to create new luxury brands from scratch (Citroën with CS or Hyundai with the new Genesis). Theoretically the idea is valid, but the challenge is to convince the current customer willing to invest in brands with a solid heritage, but rejecting new brands. In order to overtake this challenge, strategic design and positioning are essential.
Another sales strategy for generalist brands would be to adapt their models to the current world. Would this be the best approach? It would be true if the automotive industry didn”t go against logic. Car purchase is based on impulse, aesthetics and the perception associated to the object, and the influence of marketing and design departments. The brands seduce the consumer with halo models, more attractive (and expensive) that follow market trends. That is the reason why SUVs are successful (excessive and useless in many cases), but rational cars aren’t as successful. Design as pure aesthetics and the form over function and logic have succeeded.
Aesthetics is the most sellable and attractive part of the car. For designers it is magic, treating the car as if it were a sculpture. Unfortunately, that design magic based on harmony and the right proportions has recently changed towards baroque and exaggeration. The need of certain brands to differentiate is causing the application of as many design ideas as possible in one car, obtaining extravagant models that we doubt will remain relevant over the years.
Some strategies to stand out amongst competitors are: to incorporate a distinctive element that is repeated in all models. (e.g. “the BMW kidneys”); to unify the design of all its models, differentiating them by details or customizable parts, but allowing the client to identify the brand at first glance. The headlights are among these details. They have evolved from being a mundane item to become a technological and prestigious feature. Audi and BMW are leaders, using OLED and laser headlights with spectacular designs (sometimes more so than the rest of the car). It is fair to say that in Mormedi we saw the potential of these elements ten years ago when we worked in collaboration with Nissan to design a more innovative and attractive headlight concept.
We are in a crucial moment for the automotive industry. The “enemies” are the new transportation technologies, a less loyal consumer and a society with real needs of new means of transportation. In this new scenario, Mormedi has a lot to contribute due to our experience in global design and our capability to understand the needs and worries of users.
Airlines will have to review the whole passenger experience and reconsider the entire user journey, as many touch points will have to be redesigned to adapt to our new circumstances and way of travelling.
The auto industry needs to rethink both service design and product design in the post-COVID-19 world, based on a deep understanding of consumers’ shifting preferences.
CES 2020 was the 50th anniversary of the tradeshow where companies showcase the products that will define the market for the coming the year. Here is our take on the trends and topics that made headlines this year.