Peter Stevens on ‘Surface Entertainment’

“Oh no, I have lost control of my model and do not know what to do with this line, and I have got so many ideas, and I want to use them all on one car!”

It is very unlikely that you will ever hear a designer say this but when you look at some recent vehicles it is very clear that this is what is happening far too often.

I always feel that if you have just two or three really good ideas that can drive the design forward that can be enough for a project. Lines that move across the surface for no good reason and have no purpose beyond ‘surface entertainment’ almost never contribute to the design.

Whilst it is either very expensive or very difficult to press the sheet metal of the main body into complex twisted forms it is very easy to mold the front and rear bumpers and the side sills into almost any shape that the designer thinks might be interesting. These parts are usually RIM plastic moldings and can easily suffer a great deal of bad stylistic abuse. This is often why the front and rear of a car can look as if a different designer worked on those areas from the group who worked on the main body design.

A recent trend has been to lose a line with nowhere to go by running it into a head or taillight. A trick can work out OK, but when a line curls around a fake little air outlet it looks like indecision on the part of the designer, rather than a neat solution; to be avoided even if you work at Ford!

The Toyota hydrogen-fueled car [aka Mirai — Ed.] has an image of its own because it is the worst piece of automotive design that I can remember (although the Pontiac Aztec is still really bad too). The problem with a car like this is that people will say ‘if that is what a new low emission car looks like then I will stick with my V8 pickup truck’. And who could blame them.

I have put together a set of images of detailed areas of different vehicles. Some are obvious and well known; others are more like a quiz, no prizes for guessing which cars they are from.

It is always worth looking closely at the design rather than just liking the overall shape. It is the details that make the design in architecture, fashion, products and automobiles, and getting those elements right is part of the real pleasure in designing.

About Peter Stevens
Peter Stevens is a world-renowned vehicle designer and former Visiting Professor of Vehicle Design at the Royal College of Art in London. Over the course of his career, he’s been chief designer at Lotus Cars, McLaren and Lamborghini and design director for MG, Mahindra and Mahindra and Rivian Automotive. He’s also worked as a design consultant for Prodrive, BMW, Williams and Toyota. You can catch up with his antics on his Facebook page and his new website.


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