Unraveling the Trend of Unrealistic Design Sketches

I’ve known Fabio Filippini for a good while. The former Renault interior design VP and Pininfarina Chief Creative Officer has over 35 years of experience in the automotive design sector and is currently running his own design consultancy in Tokyo, Japan, where he is actively advising on car design and design strategy.

Filippini is also very active on social media – an activity that can possibly be attributed to long stays in airport lounges as he travels between his home in Japan to visit his clients worldwide. And, being Italian, he is not shy to voice his concern over certain trends he sees playing out on these digital platforms.

The article below was actually a comment Filippini left on a recent Form Trends Facebook post, and it’s too good not to share. As you’ll read, the subject matter pertains to ever-larger wheels and exaggerated proportions appearing in automotive sketches, often to the point that they lose the ability to realistically communicate the design’s intent. I have edited the text slightly for punctuation and conciseness, but I think you’ll agree that Filippini has a point…

“It has become a real disease. Drawing cars with bigger wheels is an easy and cheap trick to make the sketch look more attractive. Having said that, there is a clear threshold between a sketch enhancing proportions or stance and a ridiculous caricature. And a real designer should know it well. Of course, there are good caricatures, and caricaturists could be considered artists in their own right. But that is a different discipline from real Art, in the same way that a stupid and childish sketch is not Design! And I would say the same for the ones who pretend to be designers by just doing so.

Michelangelo’s David

“Michelangelo’s David has intentionally slightly oversized hands to enhance the mighty power of his character – even in a relaxed and static pose – and to anticipate what’s going to happen next… Following the shallowness of thinking (if not astonishing ignorance) of most modern-day ‘pretending to be’ car designers, they would consider doing enormously oversized feet for the intention of ‘challenging’ the marble craftsmanship…

“Unfortunately (for them) it doesn’t work like that.

“There was a time when drawing a wheel arch was a design challenge on his own, together with the rest of the entire car. A designer would spend time finding the best curves and profile to match the suspension travel and wheel stance, in every condition of charge. The challenge was to find the nicest solutions and fight with engineering to adapt their standards or evolve their techniques. But you won’t challenge anyone by just lazily refusing to learn the rules of the game, or not even knowing they exist! You don’t pretend to beat Federer by simply hitting the ball hardest and not considering if it goes out of the court… That’s just stupid ignorance.

Lamborghini Countach by Marcello Gandini

“When Gandini designed the rear wheel arch of the Countach he surely knew best how to integrate the constraints with his styling intentions in order to achieve that dynamic effect, and I am certain that he challenged the technicians to get the final desired result. But that comes from knowledge and talent, not from an easiness and pretentious attitude.

“Most of today ‘sketching maniacs’ (I cannot call them designers, regardless if their creations are done in pencil, Photoshop or 3D digital modeling) probably haven’t even noticed that an original 911 has softly squarish wheel arches, which add a lot to its overall design charm. Drawing cars with big round rims protruding from the body (eventually ridiculously slanted sideways) is not challenging anything. It’s not even challenging the design intention itself. It’s just an easy way to make a superficially stupid sketch look ‘interesting’ by exaggerating its proportions. That’s not design. That’s completely missing the real purpose of design! That means not understanding the basic difference between producing shallow sketches or flashy renderings with the real objectives of the designer’s role.

Porsche 911

“Design should be about finding interesting ideas, shapes and solutions to innovate and make something great in the end. Most of this ridiculous cheating is just the easiest and laziest way to hide the lack of originality and content of the design expressed in the sketch… And at the first step of the real development, all that pretend and fake character will disappear immediately by leaving a deceiving conventional and often ridiculous product on the market. That’s mostly what is happening in today’s mass production cars, as we have seen recently from big premium names. And it also means that too many current OEM design department leaders are missing the point, or even worse, not understanding it.

“Lately, this ridiculously childish attitude has been pushed so far that many duds on the web (and even worse, some professional car designers) would even sketch old car masterpieces with gigantic wheels, without catching the real proportions or design spirit, but instead pretending in their own full conviction to improve them… It is like being so shamelessly ignorant to pretend to improve Michelangelo’s David by redrawing it with a gigantic and erected phallus…”

Filippini ends his comment with a simple statement underlining the validity of his argument and summarily dismisses any possibility of a retort: “I consider this statement as a definitive opinion, and won’t waste any further time and words to answer eventual criticism from Facebook’s ‘experts’…”

Hope you enjoyed reading this exemplary and well-qualified opinion.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.