…asks Paul Sanderson at the blog 5thcolour. He has a rather clever diagram of the profiles of eight saloon cars and asks us why they are so alike.
Paul Sanderson’s blog is worth a good look over and above this particular posting. I liked the article about the value of colour in branding and there are plenty more like that at his site. Since we are a broad church here, I am confident our readers will appreciate something from outside the narrow confines defined by four wheels.
Sanderson’s point has a grain of truth in it. More than anything it points out the real challenge faced by designers in making their cars distinctive. I have thrown a lot of brick bats at wacky C-pillars lately. And the crazes for unanchored graphics, strakes and feature lines are all well documented here. Sanderson’s diagram gets at one reason why the creative efforts of designers have focused on these areas. The car profile – the most obvious place to start when trying to be distinctive – is a fiercely contested design space.
Imagine that diagram only with a much smaller ‘design space’ than is shown on the right. Thus constrained designers change other things.
Having considered this problem for two decades, I conclude that in most periods most cars in the same class looked the same as one another for the reasons they do today. If you took ten mainstream saloons from 1986 and did a profile analysis of them they’d have similar profiles. Even in 1986 people were talking about all cars looking the same. And if we take a bland, mainstream car from 1986 and park it among eight members of the same class today, the ´86 will look striking, characterful and original, the very same car that in 1986 was just another boring saloon.
The other point I’d make about the profile exercise is that it discounts people’s capacity to judge small differences. The dimensional difference between me and my brother’s face is very small but nobody mistakes us for one another. Cars aren’t seen as abstract profiles but as three dimensional objects in space. I agree some people can’t tell them apart very easily and I don’t think you can ever do much for those people. Sell them a ’81 Cortina, perhaps?