Car Styling Course
Automotive Design & Marketing Management
Welcome to the sixth post of the Automotive Marketing and Automotive Design Course, we hope you are enjoying this free automotive course. In the previous week we saw the trends in car styling and the product concept. Now we will give way to the next unit: Styling.
In this first post we will see the car design language. In two posts we'll start doing some basic sketches, so get your pencils ready!
UNIT 2: AUTOMOTIVE STYLING
This is the most creative part of the car development process. It begins with some documents that specify the concept to be developed, as well as the necessary design requirements. The conceptual designers develop the different proposals and finally one of them is chosen.
This part is really nice, for students, a Bachelor of Engineering is usually not enough to get a job in this area. That is why this article is important, because it can help you to work where you really want to. If you are very clear that sketching is your goal, be ready to travel to the cities where there are design centers, join in all the car design contests that you can, don't leave the pencil and study a course, diploma or master's degree related with car styling. Then, it will be much easier for you to work on car styling. Work on your portfolio to get your best designs, in addition to those that you have submitted to different car styling contests. At drivingyourdream we usually run car design contests, so this may be your chance.
In the old days, on the one hand, the engineers worked independently on a chassis and an engine, and on the other hand, the designers were in charge of the bodywork. Currently everything is more unified, although sometimes the engine department can work independently on certain brands. Nowadays, all the design is guided by engineers from the initial phase. All specialists have to validate each design phase, even if they haven't actively worked on them. For example, before approving the final sketch, the suspension department will have to validate if there is enough space for the suspensions in the wheel arch; the same applies for the rest of the technical departments. This saves a lot of time and unnecessary costs. This is why it's important for the automotive designer to have as much knowledge as possible. The final design will be reviewed by engineers from all areas, it isn't necessary to have a deep knowledge of them, but the designer must know at least the basic technical side of a car.
Design language of a car brand
This is a car design key, Do you want to send your sketches to your favorite brand? Don't do it until you know the car design language.
A design language is a code of standards and styles that will be applied to all vehicles in the range to give it uniformity. This creates a strong brand identity, so each brand has its own design language, with patterns or styles defined by the chief designer to have a consistent product range.
This creates a strong brand identity, so each brand has its own design language, with patterns or styles defined by the chief designer to have a consistent product range.
That is why the models of the same brand tend to resemble each other. For example, anyone would recognize a BMW even without knowing the specific model due to its grille. These signs that identify each brand are applied even when there is no functional need. We found a good example in the BMW M1. This car has a rear engine, so there is no need for front cooling, but it still has the typical BMW grille.
In the year 2000, Opel suffered serious economic losses, after many analyzes of the possible causes the experts detected that the problem was about brand identity. Its competitors had a clearly defined identity, but each Opel model was completely different. At that time it was concluded that everyone recognized the Opel Corsa, but as the model range increased, the public didn't identify the rest of the models and the brand's identity problems became more evident. That is why brands are working on the brand identity of each vehicle, and at the same time the brand itself is reinforced by providing continuity to its product line. In this way, anyone is able to recognize any new brand's model.
In the same way, this will be one of the main reasons why a brand will discard a sketch that is totally different from the models they already have in production. To be accepted, it must comply with the brand's design language.
You can take as an exercise to see different current ranges of different brands and draw common patterns to analyze their language. Some manufacturers have very strong characteristics that have endured throughout different generations.
Let's see some examples of design language, obviously we cannot see all car brands, among other reasons, because there are about3,300 current car manufacturers in the world.
For example, the main element of the Alfa Romeo design language is the trilobe (or escudetto). A balance is sought between the proportions to denote dynamism and sportsmanship. If we look at the general lines of their cars, we will always find a pure design, with a marked lateral line, to enhance the sportiness and aerodynamics senses; but always absent of redundant details. As with the BMW M1, this tri-lobe will remain even in vehicles with the rear engine that don't need any type of cooling in the front, as it happens with the Alfa Romeo 4C.
Another example, let's look at the Jeep brand.
The main element of Jeep's design language is the seven slots on its front grille, it will always be the same number. Suppose you are a car designer applying to Jeep, if you handed over a concept with six or eight slots on the front to the Jeep's chief designer, your sketch would be completely discarded. Therefore, it's an advantage to investigate the design language of each brand.
This is a symbol that remains from the Jeep CJ (Civilian Jeep). Because one of the requirements for the civilian version was to make room for larger headlights. For this, the outer slots were removed, leaving seven of them in the grille. Since then, Jeep has made many grilles with different number of slots, but since 1998 Jeep decided to keep this heritage of the Civilian Jeep in all its models.
They also have the trapezoidal wheel arch and the windshield is practically horizontal in all their models. The characteristic Jeep wheel arches gave the wheels great freedom of movement on the Jeeps used during the war.
In conclusion, it's important to respect and know the design language of each brand.
trHere, the brand's product strategy gains prominence. Some manufacturers, like Jeep, try to preserve the tradition so that all their models will keep a series of unalterable design characteristics. This strategy gives continuity and strength to all its global models and not only those that are in current production, in addition, the brand makes greater use of the brand reputation.
But in this strategy not all are advantages. By giving that models' continuity there is a risk and can also bring some drawbacks to the manufacturer's product strategy:
- Less differentiation between different generations, so the customer may not be motivated to buy a new car.
Jeep in this case does a great job, since it keeps those original elements but modernizes them: That is, the grille maintains its seven slots, but they are much more stylish and modern. This has been done because the Jeep's designers have understood very well everything that is around a car design.
There is a very big difference between delivering an isolated concept to a brand, to doing it under these guidelines, with a defined product strategy.
Other brands decide to change their design language with each new generation, thus making the previous generation obsolete more quickly. When the new generation appears to be much more modern than the previous one, it achieve to seduce the customer and increase sales. But this also has drawbacks: On the one hand, as we will see later, second-hand cars are also part of the brand business. On the other hand, if the cars of a brand are, in the aesthetic sense, outdated to the detriment of their new version, they will have a low value in a second-hand market (residual value). No buyer wants to buy a car that looks outdated within a few years, or a car that devalues faster than other brands.
Here we see a practical example: The Mini began to be manufactured in 1959 until its production ceased. Later, BMW acquired the brand and in 2001 the new mini began production. As we can see, the difference between the original version and the one made by BMW in 2001 is very remarkable, but, since then, the evolution has been quite subtle during the next twenty years.
What has Mini decided to do? The brand has used traditional elements of the Mini and has placed them in its current version, but modernized and stylized. For example, we can see it in its rear lights. In this way it marks a clear differentiation from the previous version. Using modern elements but at the same time it embraces the tradition of the brand and respects its design language.
Why is this important for design?
If we were required to design a sports car, it's quite logical that we don't design the same one for Ferrari as for Peugeot. Each brand has its own design language, which is made up of guidelines, so knowing them is essential. Especially if we want to participate in design contests of the brand, or show our talent to it. This doesn't mean that for Ferrari you have to design a sports car and for Peugeot a city car, if the tables are turned, and you decide to design a Peugeot sports car, it should be easily recognizable. The same happens if you decide to design a utility car for Ferrari, logically it would be positioned in the luxury sector, but aesthetically it should be identified as a Ferrari.
Let's remember that when the design team makes the sketches, the selected sketch will have a series of justifications in different areas: mechanics, materials, production, sales forecast, future trends, technology, business models ... etc.
All the previous knowledge, and the one that we acquire throughout the course, will allow us to correctly argue our designs.
This part is important: For any idea that someone submits, it's advisable not to focus initially on several areas on the same sketch or project. The innovations must go one by one; especially if they are very disruptive.
For example, it's more advisable to submit a first project focused on a materials innovation and a second one as a result of a study of future trends. But it isn't advisable to submit an innovative solution for materials and disruptive future trends in the same concept.
The concepts are used to show new ideas. But, if we present a concept with 10 innovative ideas, some of those ideas will be lost and forgotten during the argumentation of the project. At the end of the presentation, people will only remember one or two ideas of the 10 that you introduced.
This is due to the levels of abstraction in people's minds, so it's better to associate: Concept one -> solution one; Concept two -> solution two. Although it will depend on how novel the concept is and the designer's professional experience. But as a general rule, one single concept for any isolated solution.
DESIGN LANGUAGE : CONCEPT CARS
It's very different to create a vehicle for mass production than to design a car for a private customer. But sometimes, there are also intermediate designs: Designing for a global car brand, but without any intention of the vehicle being mass produced. This is the best of both worlds.
Concept cars arising in the 1930s, with vehicles such as the 1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster or the 1933 Volvo Venus Bilo.
For years, brands have developed concept cars with the sole purpose of showing them in motor shows as a show car. These vehicles are not designed with a commercial purpose, but in order to study the reaction of the public for the market studies.
Instead of launching a product on the market and "trying your luck", the brand exhibits it at a motor show. In this way, the brand obtain more impact and without risking if the model falls short of convincing the public. The manufacturer can also test the next design language. In this way they evaluate in advance if it's well-received by the public and by the press. In this way, if it is poorly received, the public will have perceived it as a single isolated prototype and it will have no further significance.
The design language is really important because it affects the entire product line and not just a specific model, so a wrong language would bankrupt the brand. Many of the prototypes that we see in motor shows have been hidden attempts at design languages that have been discarded due to a low reception from the public.
There are also other prototypes created to carry out technical research and test different technological solutions. Other prototypes are created solely to generate brand image and to show their technical capabilities.
These concept cars take a much shorter development process than a conventional vehicle. This is because it isn't necessary to plan production, study marketing channels, manage hundreds of suppliers or carry out such extensive tests. It usually takes between six months and a year to manufacture it.
Many of these concept cars displayed in the Motor Shows are clay models or prototypes without the mechanical part. Unfortunately, they're usually dismantled after the auto show, although sometimes they are donated to design centers, museums or to the brand's facilities.
Once they have been displayed, if the public's response has been very positive, the brand will be able to further study the possibility of manufacturing the vehicle, and the necessary modifications for it. The most common reason why they don't go into production is due to costs and lack of productive resources. Mass production vehicles lead to the creation of new assembly lines, and sometimes this isn't feasible.
There're models that show very slight variations with respect to their original concept-car, but many of them will undergo major changes due to the need to adapt to larger markets, comply with approvals, design limitations or to improve aerodynamic performance.
Production and prototype Kia Stinger:
Renault Koleos production and prototype from 1999.
With this you can draw your own conclusions about the difference between designing a concept car and a real mass-production vehicle, and how the justification for both designs will be totally different. Creating concept cars allows us to free our imagination and dream of new models; but at some point you have to keep your feet on the ground and see the real production capabilities of the model, as well as its profitability.
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