Recent history lesson here. 2006 and the Ford Mondeo Mk3 (or 4) leapt onto the world stage (or screen). Let’s go back a bit in time.
I simply feel like taking a closer look at what Auto&Design called the “Affirmed look of the new Ford Mondeo”. Well, why not?
The car made its first appearance in the film “Casino Royale” in which Daniel Craig debuted as James Bond. You can see a clip of a Mondeo rental car being steered by 007 as if it’s a Maserati or Ferrari by simply making a decision to click on this word here. You’ll notice an old friend is strategically parked in the background when Bond kneels to tie his laces for a suspiciously long time.
The lead-in to the 2007 Mondeo took the form of the Iosis concept, shown in Frankfurt in 2005. When showing this car, Ford’s designers “promised that the new Mondeo was to be more dynamic and emotive and a product of the new Kinetic Design philosophy expressed by the Iosis” (wrote Auto&Design).
Looking back, the Iosis seemed only to serve to make the production Mondeo look timid when really it wasn’t – it was a convincing revision of Ford’s entrance in the C-D class. Auto&Design joined in in the butchering of the outgoing Mondeo: “As always it is the market’s turn to decide the fate of the new car, but at least it can be said that the Mondeo is entering the fray with a coherent design that is more incisive than its predecessor”.
Martin Smith, then Ford’s design chief called the new Mondeo “the most complete expression of our new design language, Kinetic Design, in a production model.” Language is expression. The cars launched before the 2007 Mondeo were the Galaxy and S-Max. They seem to be, according to Smith, incomplete expressions of Kinetic Design. They seem fine to me.
Rather oddly, Martin Smith went on to say “For too many years now the faces of our products have not been well-enough defined”, and suggested the 2007 Mondeo had avoided that problem. This is another one of those odd remarks which doesn’t bear scrutiny. Did he mean the front graphics were not consistent from model to model or did he mean they were always blurry and out of focus? Neither option holds water.
I should really pay more attention to the “design language” concept which is used extensively in the explanation of the Mondeo. Smith referred to the language’s flexibility and “its sculpted, dynamic and emotive forms are well suited to a premium car such as the Mondeo”. It’s not really Smith’s fault – he has simply picked up a metaphor from some tertiary source in design literature without considering how flakey an idea it really is.
What he really means is “styling” and not “language”. Take out language and replace it with style and the argument is easier to take. As it is, I can’t see what part of the Kinetic Design language corresponds to human language. The trouble is apparent when you read “the ….forms are well suited to a premium car such as…”
It sounds as if the forms are entities glued onto the Mondeo when they are the Mondeo. The Mondeo is defined by forms of a certain character, being sculpted, dynamic and emotive. These things don’t correspond to parts of speech because speech is itself and its correspondence to objects is arbitrary.
The forms of the Mondeo have a character, identified as Kinetic Design. Those characters are being sculpted (having surfaces with complex geometry), dynamic (this might have to do with proportions and angles of inflection) and emotive (hard to pin down as this quality is a result of the first two). How do these correspond to language? They are not nouns. They are not verbs. They are not grammar. They correspond to the tone of speech that we recognise as emphasis and emotional colour.
If we turn away from the design-speak and look at the car, we see a vehicle which differs from its predecessor by being bigger and having fuller surfaces and a raised belt-line. Interestingly, despite the high concept of the design (it’s “Kinetic”) the Mondeo returned to Ford’s normal mode of contemporary vernacular whereas the predecessor has a much stronger design theme, making for a cool, aloof and very disciplined set of forms.
The Mk 2 didn’t need a show car to “explain it” whereas for some reason the Mk 3 does, the Iosis serving to make clear what is less clear on the production car. Intriguingly, Auto&Design quotes Claudio Messale as saying that the Iosis and production Mondeo were designed at the same time: “the concept car and the production car mutually influenced one another,” he said.
The main things I get from this are that a) the language metaphor does not work for design except at a very, very general level, b) the Iosis defeated its purpose and c) the Kinetic Design was less of a high concept than the one it replaced though no worse than the kind thing BMW had been doing for decades.
Form language? It’s a useless concept. What it refers to is the consistent application of a limited rule set to a grouping of conjoined objects: character of radii (big or small), character of surfaces (flat or full) and angles of inclination from vertical or horizontal. Styling doesn’t even correlate to grammar because grammar is about arbitrary words and specified word orders. The only part of language styling corresponds to is tone or inflection.