LISTEN TO THE KID
How do you define good car design? Trust your instincts. And your toddler
N my line of work, I meet many automotive designers, usually at international car launches. Over the years, at these events I have heard all manner of explanations to justify why their latest pride and joy looks the way it does. I suspect part of their studies involves a course on the use of evocative terminology, and there are some favourites that are repeatedly drafted into service. “Athleticism” is popular, as are “tensed” and “tension”; “strength” is thrown around easily; and “dynamism” is looking particularly worn out.
In long, drawn-out presentations, designers try to explain the complex thought processes and artistic inspirations behind a car that can also count on aerodynamic requirements and crash-safety legislation as equally important design parameters. They wax lyrical about anything from the radii of chamfers used on fenders to the particular angle of a rear-window sail panel, or an ever-increasing tumblehome used to create an impression of solidity. In the case of one particularly dowdy German hatchback, the chap presenting explained that the frontal aspect would draw sympathy from onlookers, presumably just like a sad puppy would. Through it all, I have smiled and nodded politely to men in dark polo-neck jerseys, funky shoes and brightly coloured spectacle frames, when what I really wanted to do was jump in the brand-new car and drive.
While it is nice to hear the creative ways and the passion with which
Idesigners talk about their cars, regardless of the dash-to-axle ratio or the intensity of swage lines, I think we all react to their creations at an instinctual level. Our immediate response to a car that’s easy on the eye was recently highlighted to me in no uncertain terms ... by a toddler.
Many of my family and friends are in the child-raising phase of their lives, so there is an abundance of little ones around. A particularly close family member called me to relate a story about her little boy’s love of cars; not that uncommon among little boys, I thought to myself. She relayed that he can watch cars zoom by for hours at a time from his parents’ front room and lights up whenever he realises a car trip is in the of ng.
More interesting was his response when recently visited by a Porscheowning uncle. The ankle-biter’s initial shock was replaced by delight and a huge smile to show that the 996-series 911 Turbo met with his approval. A rapt stare was interrupted only by the words “mum … go kah” and a tiny, outstretched nger. Somehow, somewhere in that 18-month-old skull, a primal part of his grey matter was tickled.
It couldn’t have been the 911’s colour; the car in question is charcoal grey; so the effects of, say, a primary red or yellow hue on his young mind are negated. If you’re a regular reader of this magazine, you may have noticed that the rear wing or the air intakes on the rear fenders set this apart as the force-fed 911, perhaps casting an appreciative nod at the driver for choosing the top dog of the range. But, for a rug rat whose technical knowledge extends as far as the word “vroom”, there were only design cues to let him know that he had his eyes xed on something special. But what were they?
I can con rm that he isn’t being drilled with motoring/car info on a daily basis. His father would much rather watch overpaid drama queens kick a ball around for 90 minutes than catch 20 modern gladiators do high-speed battle around Spa-francorchamps. His twin brother is as happy terrorising the family labrador as he is watching rush-hour traf c, so it cannot be genetic. Somehow, though, this little chap clocked that the two-door car parked outside was a bit more special than his mum’s SUV, and he did this with zero prompting or knowledge of what lay before his eyes. To cause the reaction of that order in a toddler can only mean that the visual cues are primal in nature. Suddenly, the subtle elements that designers work into designs to show tension, strength and dynamism all seem to make sense.
I’ve read that good design is supposed to make you feel something, positive or negative, and never leave you unmoved; the Nissan Juke is a very good example of this ethos. But, to extract feelings of positivity from someone with little understanding of the world around him is a very impressive achievement for any designer. Next time I nd myself face to face with one, I think I’ll take a few extra minutes and re off some searching questions before hitting the road to write my story. Tell me more about that swage line or chamfer, and explain exactly how you have designed it to tickle the primal brain centres that makes little boys fall in love with sportscars, turning them into life-long petrolheads…