Jump to: navigation, search

Automobile design

Designers at work in 1961. Standing by the scale model's left front fender is Richard Teague, a famous automobile designer at American Motors Corporation (AMC).


Automotive design is the profession involved in the development of motor vehicles or more specifically road vehicles. This most commonly refers to automobiles but also refers to motorcycles, trucks, buses, coaches, and vans. The design and development of a modern motor vehicle is typically done by a large team from many different disciplines. Automotive design in this context is primarily concerned with developing the visual appearance or aesthetics of the vehicle, though it is also involved in the creation of the product concept. Automotive design is practiced by designers who usually have an art background and a degree in industrial design or transport design.

Design elements

The task of the design team is usually split into three main aspects: exterior design, interior design, as well as color and trim design. Graphic design is also an aspect of automotive design; this is generally shared amongst the design team as the lead designer sees fit.

Exterior design (styling)

The stylist responsible for the design of the exterior of the vehicle develops the proportions, shape, and surfaces of the vehicle. Exterior design is first done by a series of digital or manual drawings. Progressively more detailed drawings are executed and approved. Clay and or digital models are developed from, and along with the drawings. The data from these models are then used to create a full sized mock-up of the final design (body in white). With 6 axis computer controlled robots, the clay model is first designed in a computer program and then "printed" using the machine and large amounts of clay.

Interior design (styling)

The stylist responsible for the design of the vehicle interior develops the proportions, shape, and surfaces for the facia, seats, trim panels etc. Here the emphasis is on ergonomics and the comfort of the passengers.

Color and trim design

The color and trim (or color and materials) designer is responsible for the research, design, and development of all interior and exterior colors and materials used on a vehicle. These include paints, plastics, fabric designs, leather, grains, carpet, headliner, wood trim, and so on. Color, contrast, texture, and pattern must be carefully combined to give the vehicle a unique interior environment and personality. Designers work closely with the exterior and interior designers.

Designers draw inspiration from other design disciplines such as: industrial design, fashion, home furnishing, and architecture. Specific research is done into global trends to design for projects two to three model years in the future. Trend boards are created from this research in order to keep track of design influences as they relate to the automotive industry. The designer then uses this information to develop themes and concepts which are then further refined and tested on the vehicle models.

Graphic design

The design team also develop graphics for items such as: badges, dials, switches, kick or tread strips, liveries, flames, racing stripes, etc.

History of automobile design in the US

In the USA, automotive design reached a turning point in 1924 when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. devised annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year. Critics called his strategy planned obsolescence. Sloan preferred the term "dynamic obsolescence". This strategy had far-reaching effects on the auto business, the field of product design, and eventually the American economy. The smaller players could not maintain the pace and expense of yearly re-styling. Henry Ford did not like the model-year change because he clung to an engineer's notions of simplicity, economics of scale, and design integrity. GM surpassed Ford's sales in 1931 and became the dominant player in the industry thereafter. The frequent design changes also made it necessary to use a body-on-frame rather than the lighter, but less flexible monocoque design used by most European car makers.

Another turning point came in 1935, when automotive engineers abruptly dropped aerodynamic research when they discovered that, among other problems, aerodynamics would tend to produce one single optimal exterior shape. This would be bad for unit sales, and for GM it would obviously work against their new strategy of market differentiation. Style and engineering went their separate ways, and all body shapes underwent plastic surgery every year, whether or not the underlying automobile had changed.

Since 1935 automotive form has been driven more by consumer expectations than by engineering improvement. Form still follows function, but the primary function of the car was to get itself sold. The notable exception in the American market was the postwar appearance of the imported Volkswagen Beetle. VW represented a surprising experiment in product-driven design integrity: one body shape that remained constant from year to year, parts interchangeable from year to year, and that stability made it possible to make incremental technical improvements with a cumulative effect.

The most famous auto stylist is probably Harley Earl, who brought the tailfin and other aeronautical design references to auto design in the 1950s.

See also

External links

Art & Design schools with degree courses in automotive design