Two weeks ago we ran a favourable commentary on the 2015 Toyota SF-R concept car. Car Design News (a great source) has declared the SF-R the car of the show. We just liked its use of felt on the door-skins.
I am not sure I could say definitively the S-FR is the best of the show (I wasn’t there) but I like almost all of it. The one part troubling me is the way the headlamps are treated. Here they are again. This is what the designer said: “So yes it’s cute but being cute is not enough which is why we used the hood surface to cut off the corner of its eyes.” I think that such is the power of circular and elliptical shapes that one has a tendency to imagine they “continue” when they are cut-off in this way. This is a classic Gestalt phenomenon.
So, what were Toyota afraid of? Here is the lamp again, close up:
And this is what they didn’t want to do, leave the ellipse complete which would have looked too friendly (like a Mini).
Here is a car which has something of the same problem as the SFR. It’s the 2006 Connaught. At the time I had not the design vocabulary to express why the headlamps bothered me.
I think the lamps at the least need a thicker strip of metal where the bonnet folds down to meet them:
The extra flange I have added disrupts the impression of the circle continuing under the sheet metal of the bonnet and also gives the bonnet more substance. The edge gives an impression of less fragility.
Now, the 2011 Audi A1 also has a bonnet shutline that defines part of the headlamp´s outline.
The question is why does this work and the Connaught and Toyota don’t? I would argue that the cut line does not interrupt the oblong shape but runs parallel to it or is congruent with it. There’s no implication the lamp continues under the bonnet.
The 1995 Buick Riviera had an implied continuity problem, caused in part by the oval grille which doesn’t harmonise easily.
And the 1997 Ford Mondeo clearly doesn’t have the same problem despite its oval grille:
The 2014 Citroen C4 Cactus hedges its bets in this way….
Taking all that on board, here is my revised SFR. What I have done is cut out part of the bonnet to suggest – in accordance in Gestalt theory – that the line belongs to the lamp (figure) and not to the surroundings (ground).
I have added a strip of body-colour between the bonnet shutline and the lamp. This adds an unsatisfactory bump or corner to the lamp outline, which is visual noise. The complete ellipse is still implied, I feel.
What I conclude here is that either Toyota needed to be brave and stick with a pure ellipse as they are after all, classic shapes and are not owned by anyone. Or, change one of the parameters I have left fixed such as the bonnet shutline which I have not explored.
Behind every problematic design solution is a worse design solution.