The A-pillar of the 1993 Citroen Xantia has always looked wrong. Now I know why and the reason it had to look that way.
Unhappy with the actual car, I decided to see what would happen if I reduced the extent of the mirror sail panel so that more of the A-pillar showed. Read on to see how it looks if modified a little bit. It’s not as simple as just changing the shape of the black plastic part though…
First, what’s wrong. As designed the 1993 Xantia looks like this, below. The A-pillar disappears behind the black plastic of the mirror sail panel.
You are supposed to “read” the break-up of the A-pillar and glass graphics as shown below. One’s eye is supposed to follow a line from the side glass, across the mirror sail panel and then over to the trailing edge of the bonnet.
Only recently have I realised that that was how I was supposed to see it. The way I normally perceive the break-up of light and dark is like this:
As a result it looks like this to my eyes:
So, a simple first attempt at a remedy is to reduce the extent of the mirror sail panel and align it better to the sideglass as shown here:
These two photos show the same thing, before and after:
The re-design looked better from some angles but from the front three-quarter still looked incorrect. To completely solve the problem would mean a different front-door/front-wing/A-pillar shutline. Citroen painted themselves into a corner here. And now I understand why Citroen couldn’t change that shutline. It would have meant a huge expense in modifying all the associated parts shared with the 406.
On reflection, another solution is to handle the A-pillar the way they did it on the XM. That would mean blacking out the A-pillar and having a “cantilevered” roof graphic. Citroen probably didn’t attempt that because the XM was by 1993 bombing massively in the market.
What have we learned? First, that Gestalt theory explains why the figure-ground relationships of light and dark were not read as intended. In Gestalt theory, edges belong to the figure and not the field or ground it is sitting in or on. A simple example is the rub strip on the side of the car. In Gestalt theory the edge belongs to it and not the painted area around it.
We see the rub-strip as a figure on a ground of white paint in the above photos. In a more complex case, the black plastic of the mirror sail and the black or dark edges of the glass are seen as figures on a pale ground (on lighter coloured cars anyway). The edges belong to them.
One’s eyes see the mirror sail and side glass as one field, the windscreen as another and they are divided by the white or light A-pillar which terminates in a point. If Citroen’s designers had been more appraised of Gestalt theory and perhaps, more saliently, allowed more money they could have avoided a graphical failure like this.
Second, we’ve learned why Citroen had to do this, to make the car look less like the 406 with which it shared important underlying elements.