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    Thread: "Mannerism" in automotive design. Is the pendulum swinging back?

    1. Member Isambard's Avatar
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      10-09-2012 08:33 PM #1
      I took a music history course in college as a free elective, and one of the things the professor talked about was how a musical style becomes "mannered" at the end of it's life cycle; that is, the common themes of the style are developed to their highest level of complexity. The Baroque period (Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, etc) emphasizes complex, interwoven melodies. The subsequent Classical period has more of an emphasis on simpler melodies supported by the orchestration. This idea of mannerism is also common in the visual arts and architecture.

      In the last couple of years, we have seen many brands come to adopt some form or other of "fluidic" design language, garish LED daytime running lights, starship interiors, and some pretty funky wheel designs. I feel like the 50's were somewhat like this as well, with tailfins coming to prominence. Things got simpler as the years went on, and in the 80's, most mainstream cars were pretty boxy. Then "jellybean" cars came in the 90's, and now we are seeing the mannerism of these designs with Hyundai's and the Bangle BMW's.

      So are we going to swing back to simpler designs some time soon? What say you, TCL?

      TL;DR - In art, things usually get more complex before they get simpler. Does the same go for automotive design?

      Baroque/Rococo (highly ornamented, eye catching, complex) (1712)


      Classical/Palladian (little ornamentation, simple elegant shapes) (1772)


      Last edited by Isambard; 08-31-2013 at 08:53 PM.

    2. 10-09-2012 08:42 PM #2
      I'd say in some cases.

      I actually miss the bangle era, can't believe how much i still love the E60,E65. When new i thought they were ugly as F***thought they would look dated in 3 years

    3. Get Off My Lawn!!! vwlarry's Avatar
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      10-09-2012 09:09 PM #3
      It's my view that the shapes currently in fashion with designers and the public are relatively simple and agreeable. It's the detailing that has become increasingly fussy and self-conscious. For just one example, take headlamp design. In the past several years, designers have become almost hysterical with the way these elements look, both in the daytime and at night when they are illuminated. In many cases it's reached the point of absurdity. It's like they're running out of ways to one-up each other in basic design merits and falling back to tacking on the tinsel, in an updated version of the "chrome riot" that took place as the fifties wore on. Contemporary car design, IMO, is as a result boring, predictable, and often insulting.
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      10-09-2012 09:27 PM #4
      Nice job, OP. Now this is a question I find interesting!

      I would point out that auto design overall is actually pretty simple these days --out of necessity, due to aerodynamic requirements and modular construction, I think. In my opinion, it's the detailing and surfacing that has gotten more complex.

      I would also note that VW group's design chief, Walter de'Silva, agrees with you:
      http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dl...d-simple-is-in

      De'Silva's comments might be self-serving, as VW's designs have always tended toward cleanliness and simplicity (which is why they age so well). But, personally, I think the new Golf VII is a near-masterpiece of contemporary, clean, forward-thinking automotive design:



      My only concern is that tasteful restraint, the further it's developed and "mannered", tends to become rather dull. We need all the crazy Italians and Mazda "nagare" concepts (and, yes, Mazda3 grins) to push things forward, event if you don't immediately love the resulting first-gen cars. Car enthusiasts are so reactionary and boring in this way. If they don't like a design within 10 seconds of first laying eyes on it, they tend to dismiss it forever.

    5. Get Off My Lawn!!! vwlarry's Avatar
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      10-09-2012 09:41 PM #5
      Agree with previous poster about the upcoming new Golf. It's remarkable simply for its straightforward simplicity and lack of adornment. It's almost as if VW is returning to its more traditional role in the automotive design universe, and I love it. The best Golf since the second edition, IMO; even better than the fourth, which was another excellent piece of work.
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      10-09-2012 09:47 PM #6
      I don't mean to sound like a fanboy, but VW styling (not necessarily the car itself ) usually ages well inside and out. The latest designs will be no exception.

      Sure, Hyundai et al.'s styling is initially more eye-catching, but it's not going to age nearly as well...actually, it won't age well at all.

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      10-09-2012 11:05 PM #7
      Quote Originally Posted by vwlarry View Post
      Agree with previous poster about the upcoming new Golf. It's remarkable simply for its straightforward simplicity and lack of adornment. It's almost as if VW is returning to its more traditional role in the automotive design universe, and I love it. The best Golf since the second edition, IMO; even better than the fourth, which was another excellent piece of work.
      Unsurprisingly, I totally agree. The Mk4, aesthetically speaking, has aged incredibly well. When VW first charged Walter de'Silva with re-vamping their design language and this sketch of the Mk6 was leaked, I knew that this was a guy that gets it:


    8. 10-09-2012 11:12 PM #8
      Quote Originally Posted by Charlie84 View Post
      Unsurprisingly, I totally agree. The Mk4, aesthetically speaking, has aged incredibly well. When VW first charged Walter de'Silva with re-vamping their design language and this sketch of the Mk6 was leaked, I knew that this was a guy that gets it:
      I agree especially the rear of the MKIV GTI is still nice looking the MKV seemed liek a step back to me too jellybean

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      10-09-2012 11:19 PM #9
      Quote Originally Posted by vwlarry View Post
      It's my view that the shapes currently in fashion with designers and the public are relatively simple and agreeable. It's the detailing that has become increasingly fussy and self-conscious. For just one example, take headlamp design. In the past several years, designers have become almost hysterical with the way these elements look, both in the daytime and at night when they are illuminated. In many cases it's reached the point of absurdity. It's like they're running out of ways to one-up each other in basic design merits and falling back to tacking on the tinsel, in an updated version of the "chrome riot" that took place as the fifties wore on. Contemporary car design, IMO, is as a result boring, predictable, and often insulting.
      Any current examples you find particularly egregious?

      Weirdly, all of the hyper-complex HID headlights these days (complete with LED DRLs, high-beams and turn-signals), has given me a new appreciation for good ol' halogen reflector-type headlights (yeah, I might be alone on this one):
      Last edited by Charlie84; 10-09-2012 at 11:23 PM.

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      10-10-2012 12:59 AM #10
      everyone chides the cruze for being a bit bland looking. on the contrary, i think its one of the better looking cars in its class. i think people will grow tired of the extruded looking hyundai's pretty quickly...i mean look how the last CTS aged with its complexities.

      perhaps the OP has stumbled onto something here...
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    11. 10-10-2012 02:34 AM #11
      Interesting thread....

      Here couple of quotes that came to mind, from the great Leonardo da Vinci:

      "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"


      and

      "Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else".

      I have been dealing with transportation and product design for couple of decades now and what I noticed most of the time is that the older, the more experienced, the more mature a designer is, the simpler and cleaner their design is. The younger designers usually try to push the flow of the surfaces, try to be "loud" and force the attention to their sculpture. And of course there are plenty of exceptions, but you can see a lot of the person embedded inside their work.

      Also it takes some balls to go for simple and clean. Not every company is in the position to start trends (regardless whether they are capable or not). Sometimes (most of the times, actually) it is much safer to follow trends. An example comes to mind - the first iPhone by Apple. Several years before they came out with their first phone, I have seen concepts that looked so similar to their current 4S, proposed by designers in other companies who actually made phones. But all that was strongly rejected by upper management, because "Who would buy a black, totally flat brick with rounded corners?"..... Later on they came with the "rounded brick", then they made it less and less round and now on Gen 5, not only selling extremely well, but also changed the way phones look because every major (and not so major) player came out with something that resembles an iPhone. And yet, when you look at it, it is extremely simple, yet beautifully executed and crafted, clean and perhaps quite timeless. Let alone the fact that they do understand how to execute automotive quality surfacing and do understand very well how that works on the eye, what the eye likes to see even if the person behind the eye does not necessarily understands why they are liking what they are seeing.

      With "simple and clean" you don't have to force yourself to like it, or if you do not like it much, at least you are not going to hate it. And you will continue at least accepting it as you grow and change/mature as a person. Most people get used to a design the longer they look at it/live with it. A lot less individuals "hate" something more and more as time passes by.

      jj.

    12. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      10-10-2012 08:31 AM #12
      Quote Originally Posted by jo.jo View Post
      I have been dealing with transportation and product design for couple of decades now and what I noticed most of the time is that the older, the more experienced, the more mature a designer is, the simpler and cleaner their design is. The younger designers usually try to push the flow of the surfaces, try to be "loud" and force the attention to their sculpture. And of course there are plenty of exceptions, but you can see a lot of the person embedded inside their work.
      I can see similarities between designers and car enthusiasts as well; who here didn't want a car with a wing and bodykit at some point in their teen years? Or, for the younger people here, a car that was slammed to the ground with tons of camber? Many of us wanted a car that made a grand announcement, and as we get older many of us moved to a more restrained sense of style.

      Getting back on topic: I think the transition of auto styling from the 50s to the 60s then to the 70s is a prime example of the pendulum the OP mentions. Bold and brash to elegance and restraint to gaudy decoration (with some exceptions in each decade of course).

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      10-10-2012 08:39 AM #13
      Quote Originally Posted by silverspeedbuggy View Post

      Getting back on topic: I think the transition of auto styling from the 50s to the 60s then to the 70s is a prime example of the pendulum the OP mentions. Bold and brash to elegance and restraint to gaudy decoration (with some exceptions in each decade of course).
      I think the economy has something to do with this. When the economy is booming (like the 50s), we tend to want more expressive designs. When times are not as good (70s) we want something more discrete. And yes, this cycle seems to be repeating itself.

    14. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      10-10-2012 08:56 AM #14
      I also remember a design prof in college talking about the stages of design trends. I can't remember them all, but it goes something like this:
      - New and innovative design
      - Industry and public adopts
      - Others try to copy and enhance
      - Bastardization of the trend
      - Trend is refined or abandoned

      You can see examples of this cycle all over. In automotive terms, the modern minivan is a great example. (Imma leave the Microbus out of this since the only thing it offered the public was a small van size)

      - Chrysler debuts FWD, car-based minivan. It offers great space in a package that can fit a garage and is easy to drive
      - Public takes notice, they sell like crazy
      - Competitors try to copy and make enhance: see Chevy Lumina APV (dustbuster styling), Toyota Previa (engine under floor), Ford Aerostar (RWD truck chassis), Honda Odyssey (tall wagon)
      - Bastardization of the trend: Pontiac Aztec, Fiat Multipla (a stretch), Nissan Quest
      - Trend is refined: today's most popular minivans are basically identical to the original Caravan.

      Styling trends follow an identical arc. The retro styling phase is also a prime example of this 'pendulum.' New Beetle (Nissan Figaro?) >> PT Cruiser/T-bird/Prowler/Mustang (debateable: heritage or retro resurgence?) >> Microbus concept/Dodge Kahuna concept >> Unclear future (Beetle restyle appears to have been well received) but contrast that with dead PT Cruiser/T-Bird/Prowler

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      10-10-2012 09:00 AM #15
      Quote Originally Posted by Hajduk View Post
      I think the economy has something to do with this. When the economy is booming (like the 50s), we tend to want more expressive designs. When times are not as good (70s) we want something more discrete. And yes, this cycle seems to be repeating itself.
      I'm sure that plays into it as well, but I wouldn't call early to mid 70s 'discrete.' American cars were slathered in chrome trinkets. Ornate hood ornaments, chrome strips surrounding everything, vinyl roofs. It was faux luxury. In the late 70s styling started moving to the more austere/simple designs.

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      10-10-2012 09:38 AM #16
      The new Hyundais are well designed, but I can see them aging quick, as it now seems that sqare, more simple designs are coming out. Tihs new curvatious look is very complex, especially in interior designs (i.e new Fords)

      I've also noticed that some manufacturers are basically keeping one design, and making them bigger for the larger sized ones they offer.

      BMW has been doing this for years - 7 sells first, then the 5 series in the similar look follows, then the 3. Hyundai has now seem to have been following this trend.
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      10-10-2012 09:50 AM #17
      I would like to note that the halogen reflectors on the Mustang add a great deal of interest to the front fascia simply because they do not distract from it. Their simplicity enables a degree of sullenness in the overall character that would not work with a fussy projector or LED design. That type of lamp would distract too much attention from the overall impression. I find that they enable the disaffected look (that I like so much about the car!) very well.

      Putting fussy headlamps on a Mustang is like putting sparkle mascara on a boxer.

      I see some really nasty LED dropins for B5s over here. Talk about f#ing up a front end. I was really shocked the first time I saw one with the fussy lights - not only did they look bad, they stuck out and looked worse. They were the opposite of the overall Bauhaus lines of the car. Ridiculous.
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      10-10-2012 10:03 AM #18
      Nissan (including Infiniti) is one of the worst offenders in current over-styled busy designs.


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      10-10-2012 10:04 AM #19
      Quote Originally Posted by atomicalex View Post
      Putting fussy headlamps on a Mustang is like putting sparkle mascara on a boxer.
      Excellent.

      I have thought for a few years that we're going to be at a time like the early '60s. We went from bulbous, chrome-laden '50s designs to clean, simple lines like the Chevy II, Lincoln Continental and BMW Neue Klasse in just a few years. This isn't to say that one is better than the other (thought I do like clean design), but the pendulum does indeed swing like that.
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      10-10-2012 12:52 PM #20
      Quote Originally Posted by jo.jo View Post
      With "simple and clean" you don't have to force yourself to like it, or if you do not like it much, at least you are not going to hate it. And you will continue at least accepting it as you grow and change/mature as a person. .
      I think it's important to make the distinction between "clean" design and what I call "blank" design. The mere lack of adornment does not automatically make for a good design --I think a lot of "sophisticated" people often make this mistake! As if they say to themselves, "Oh, it looks like minimalism to me, so it must be terribly sophisticated!" Going overly clean just results in a lack of visual interest. To illustrate my point, in VW fanboi terms:

      Clean:


      Blank:


      Quote Originally Posted by atomicalex View Post
      I would like to note that the halogen reflectors on the Mustang add a great deal of interest to the front fascia simply because they do not distract from it. Their simplicity enables a degree of sullenness in the overall character that would not work with a fussy projector or LED design. That type of lamp would distract too much attention from the overall impression. I find that they enable the disaffected look (that I like so much about the car!) very well.

      Putting fussy headlamps on a Mustang is like putting sparkle mascara on a boxer.

      I see some really nasty LED dropins for B5s over here. Talk about f#ing up a front end. I was really shocked the first time I saw one with the fussy lights - not only did they look bad, they stuck out and looked worse. They were the opposite of the overall Bauhaus lines of the car. Ridiculous.
      I'm probably an outlier on this, but I prefer the halogen Mk6 Golf headlights to the Xenon projectors (especially with the LEDs):





      And those projectors are relatively simple by contemporary standards!

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      10-10-2012 01:33 PM #21
      Quote Originally Posted by Charlie84 View Post
      I think it's important to make the distinction between "clean" design and what I call "blank" design. The mere lack of adornment does not automatically make for a good design --I think a lot of "sophisticated" people often make this mistake! As if they say to themselves, "Oh, it looks like minimalism to me, so it must be terribly sophisticated!" Going overly clean just results in a lack of visual interest. To illustrate my point, in VW fanboi terms:

      Clean:


      Blank:
      Great point. You just hit the nail on the head with the distinction and have put into words my exact feelings about the new Jetta. At first glance between the two I'm betting the average observer won't catch the difference. But it's small touches like the nicely designed graphics in the light housings, the floating air intake in the bumper cover and the surfacing around it, the simple grille that still adds interest where the chrome strip is carried into the headlights. You can tell the designers really agonized over the details on this car. I can only guess how many hours were spent discussing the shape of the c pillar alone; it seems like not that big a deal, but it is perfectly shaped to be modern yet has direct relation to all Golfs of the past.

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      10-10-2012 01:38 PM #22
      Quote Originally Posted by Sortafast View Post
      Nissan (including Infiniti) is one of the worst offenders in current over-styled busy designs.

      Oh god yes



      What's particularly amazing, is that in the years since that atrocity was released, their designs have continued to go so overboard to the point that the QX is actually starting to look tame by comparison now.

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      10-10-2012 02:43 PM #23
      The inflated grille on that thing always caused me giggles. It looks like a cartoon.
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      10-10-2012 02:46 PM #24
      Cars with complex designs don't normally appeal to me, so I hope that designs get simpler soon.

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      10-10-2012 02:51 PM #25
      Quote Originally Posted by OP
      Is the pendulum swinging back?
      Yes. IMO.

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