Design Rationalism III

We have been discussing design rationalism lately. A lot of my visual analyses have focussed on the main linear elements and graphics. This photo taken early in the morning captures a subtle, sculptural element on the VAG city car body.

2014 VW Up
2014 VW Up

Notice the shadow on the doors, to the rear of the shutline. This shows that the bodyside is gently curved outwards; it is most curved just under the window line and if you inspect the window sill by looking down the car, parallel to the centre line, it bows outwards. The curve fades away downward. The shape is reminiscent of the hull of a boat.

The point I want to make is that you should understand that even within the remit of design rationalism as severe as demonstrated on this car, there is room for subtle expression in the sculpting between the main feature lines. The surface that defines the frame of the windows is concave which also creates interesting plays of light and shade.

While many might write this car off as an appliance (which it is), it is one upon which a lavish amount of time has been spent to add richness and interest for those willing to give the car a closer look. I think that this design is an object lesson that “less-is-more” should be taken with a pinch of salt.

There is a fine line between simplicity and banality. A less experienced designer might have been content with simple sculpting, arguing that it was all that was needed. A more nuanced approach has been to work within the confines of the vehicle’s size and price and reduced graphical language to find a parameter where small deviations from the bare minimum have given a lot of life and richness to the design.

I think architects could learn from this as all too often simplicity has led to banality which becomes apparent as time goes by.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Design Rationalism III”

  1. There are compromises here – the way the rear door shutline cuts through the flattened section around the rear wheel looks uncomfortable, but it’s better to have wind-down windows rather then the pop out ones in the Twingo. And the hubcaps could be simpler. But generally this is a fine design. Anyone who thinks it is boring is ……..wrong. But we cater to all churches at DTW, so here is a superfluous crease and an entirely irrelevant piece of black plastic to make it more exciting. Wow!

    1. I approve of this very stylish small car design. All that’s needed is a smaller greenhouse and a more rakish C-pillar profile. We’re planning to do something similar with our new O-class in a few years time.


      Gorden Wagener

  2. Is there a comeback of mud flaps – or do i simply recognize them more often in the last weeks – I saw some Capturs wearing mud flaps – it reminds me of my youth…

    The Up! has a pretty good design, not so childish like other small cars. A sober but not cheap looking style – also thanks the “I-Phone-Look” of the rear window and the nice design versions of the wheels. Much better than the plump Volkswagen Fox

    @Sean Patrick: The Up! has pop-out windows too.

  3. Mudflaps: they are a courtesy to other drivers as well as keeping the car clean but they can be rust traps. My first XM had them and they helped the front wings rust out. I didn’t see it until it was too late. The Saab 900 had them half along the sills which was novel.
    Markus may be right about flaps making a comeback. What a detail!

    1. I loath and despise mudflaps. They are the automotive equivalent of doilies. The centrally mounted flaps on my Saab scrape over ever speed hump, ramp and driveway dropdown, setting both mine and my passenger’s teeth on edge. They also serve no useful purpose I can discern.

  4. Mud flaps stop dirt besmirching the body side and reduce the mist thrown up on wet roads that causes a visibility hazard. They don’t look good sometimes but can be unobtrusive. The Saab ones are brilliant.

  5. I always associate mudflaps with British number plates on cars I used to see in my home town in France, particularly around the ‘Camping Municipal’ during the summer, as many would stop there for a day or two to break out the journey down south and sample the local delicacies.

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