Cutting Corners the VW Way

Recently I ran a small article on the hard edges of public transport design. Sitting in a VW Touran I noticed that someone in Potsdam had been cutting corners too.

2010 VW Touran b-pillar curvature continuity failure
2010 VW Touran b-pillar curvature continuity failure

How did they do that? On this b-pillar trim I noticed that the main fillet had a pronounced shadow before it turned the corner (where the orange arrow is). Sure, it’s not a major part of the car interior and I am probably the first person who ever noticed it. What it does is lend this part at coarse and cold look, precisely akin to the hard edges of a Xerox photocopier from 1986 or that Alstom train interior I showed.

What happened here was that someone decided this part was not worth modelling to the same standard as parts such as the dashboard. That means that the little rounded edge known as the fillet is not curvature matched. You can get a technical explanation here. A layman’s way of understanding it is that the blend from one face of the part to the other was not smooth.

Notice how as you look from left to right the surface lightens, then darkens and then lightens. It should not darken before lightening. How hard is that to do? In most CAD packages you can get a good curvature matched surface on a coarsely-grained part at the stroke of a button. In this instance, VW decided the rear seat passengers weren’t worth the effort.

Author: richard herriott

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

15 thoughts on “Cutting Corners the VW Way”

  1. Richard. Although not a very nice feature, I’d question your point about the shadow. I suggest the dark line is an optical illusion. There is equally a false highlight to the right of the false shadow. Blank out the lighter section on your screen and the dark line disappears. That said, even if the curve doesn’t actually kink outwards before it flows round, it appears to do so. So it is reasonable to suggest that a good design feature would allow for this by allowing a larger radius curve. Also, do the two grey hues mismatch, or is that another illusion?

  2. The car is white.
    The optical illusion is that it looks like an optical illusion. If the main surface’s rate of curvature change matched with perfect continuity, one would not see a darker line in between the main surface and the radius.
    I think it’s tangency matched.

    1. No.It’s what happens here.

      We judge tones relative to their surroundings. As the darker shadow reaches the lighter edge, you begin to read it darker, but it isn’t really.

  3. Sean: that’s a nice example of a point made by Albers. That is true however it’s not happening here. Look at the bottom of the b-pillar very close up; drag the image leftwards to slowly reveal the radius and the flat surface to its left
    then you see it is darker than the area to its left.

    1. In my final attempt to convince, here is the photo with a dark section overlaid – the dark line disappears. I’ve also recreated the illusion on the left by overlaying a simple tonal gradation from dark grey to transparency over a light and dark background.

      If you stretch the gradation, the effect disappears so, depending on light levels, there will be a minimum radius that one should allow, below which the darkening illusion will occur, above which it won’t. Part of my day job involves making things look like something they aren’t and this teaches you that, just because something is correct, that doesn’t make it right. Thus, it’s not enough for a designer to say that the curve on the VW is actually correct, they need to modify it so that it looks right.

      I’ve never had a Fillet O Fish.

    1. I didn’t know they still did that. Dire necessity pushed me to McD’s last August. The salad I eventually ordered was shown in a glass bowl. Naturally it arrived in a cardboard carton. As it’s a fast-food restaurant can they legally show the food in a setting unrepresentative of the conditions of likely consumption? Who brings around a glass bowl with them?

    2. Burger chains do seem to have a dispensation from the requirement to illustrate their product accurately. Or have I missed the small print that says “this illustration represents your meal before a member of our staff has sat on it in order to maximise your enjoyment of the dining experience”?

      I did once enter the hallowed portals of the McDonalds University in East Finchley, possibly the only university where students don’t worry they’ll end up working in a burger joint.

    3. Also, whilst I am sure the courses there are very rigorous, doesn’t the very notion of a McDonald’s University devalue higher education? I feel stupider for learning of its existence.

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