Some More Gestalt Theory: 2008 Chevrolet Cruze

The headlamps of this car never appealed to me. Gestalt theory explains why.

2008 Chevrolet Cruze: source
2008 Chevrolet Cruze: source

For a quick resume, Gestalt Theory is about how the mind is disposed to try to make sense of visual data. Your mind is inclined to fill in gaps to make whole outlines, and turn collections of individuals into groups and to pick exceptions from ordered arrays. The mind wants to sort out moving objects from a stable background. In short, it’s the equipment a mind would need to distinguish a moving thing in a complex background.

Commonly, design failures involve instances when the object can be misconstrued or where the shapes suggest something other than what is there. The designer of the Chevrolet Cruze had this in mind:

2008 Chevrolet Cruze front end, as seen by the designer.
2008 Chevrolet Cruze front end, as seen by the designer.

This shape is the one you’re supposed to notice:

Marked up: note the green outline on the left
Marked up: note the green outline on the left

It’s a horizontal oblong lamp with a triangular, secondary form emerging from it. This is the side view:

2009 Chevrolet Cruze, side view
2009 Chevrolet Cruze, side view.

The designers probably liked the way the wheel arch and the wing line were sorta, kinda parallel. They aren’t really but it’s okay for lines to steadily diverge or converge. This one looks like it’s steadily diverging.

2008 Chevrollet Cruze side1 marked up

Lines A-B and D-C are the main thing you notice but look at line 1-2 in green. It has a vague bend and I think this line is not a line you’d draw if you were creating a side profile. The triangular part of the lamp is now not clearly a secondary shape. In this profile the gestalt is a deformed oblong, one entity still.

2008 Chevrolet Cruze
2008 Chevrolet Cruze

It’s in three-quarter view that the designer’s plan goes wrong. Perhaps she or he saw it as an oblong with a triangular, secondary shape that nicely tied in to the wing and the wheel arch. From a Gestalt point of view one tends to perceive now two forms, neither of which has dominance. Here are those two forms, in red and in green.

2008 Chevrolet cruze three q1 marked up

The red outline shows one possible lamp silhouette that keeps the dramatic backward sweep. The green silhouette keeps only the horizontal oblong elements and would have avoided the weird bend in the bonnet to wing. Alas, the curve marked above as D-C is wrecked if the green silhouette is chosen.

With another three months they could have found something without any of these problems.

Author: richard herriott

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

6 thoughts on “Some More Gestalt Theory: 2008 Chevrolet Cruze”

  1. Yes, exactly.
    I take it the same doesn’t apply to the BMW 5 series of the same, because it doesn’t have that kink in the upper middle, right?

    1. ‘of the same era’ is what I meant to write. Obviously.

    2. Also Citroen’s C4 and C5 might provide another good counterpoint.

  2. Great analysis! Until seeing the full-front image at the start of the page, I never got what the front was supposed to look like – the upper part of the grille, above the awkwardly placed Chevrolet bowtie, seemed laid on top, making it too big compared to the headlights directly next to it. At last, I see it. Too bad, because the rest of the looks nice enough if a bit bland.

    (Also, this is my first post here, having read up without posting anything for a while, having stumbled into here from Curbside Classic. Your insights into automotive design shed a different light onto everyday cars -sometimes quite literally!)

    1. Welcome aboard. Thanks for your comment. I teach design and that provides me with whatever insight I have. I’m glad you find the text interesting.
      The Chevrolet badge is clumsy, isn’t it? It should be smaller or placed on a correctly shaped and sized plinth/base. As I see it, the lamps are two themes that are struggling for visual dominance and that one never “wins” means the form is unstable: which is supposed to be boss?
      I am big fan of CC: it’s a fine site with a pleasant community.
      We hope to see you again soon!

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