The purpose of this tutorial is to give you an idea of how to best start a new project in the world of automotive design. Both beginners, students and even professionals feel the same difficulties whendrawing a car type that they have never drawn before.
The purpose of this tutorial is to give you an idea of how to best start a new project in the world of automotive design. Beginners, students, and even professionals alike experience the same difficulties when drawing a car type that they have never drawn before.
Before starting a project, it is very helpful to know the basic proportions and hardpoints of the object. Familiarize yourself with the package and proportions first.
This example should encourage you to analyze the basic proportions of different vehicle types.
Always focus on the side view first. The side view contains all the necessary information you need to draw a car. After internalizing the basic proportions, it will be easier for you to get results since the basic architecture is correct.
For the purpose of this tutorial, let’s assume you need to design a city car. In the first picture below, you see the same car but with different proportions. Their overhang, wheel size, and cabin-to-body ratios are different.
The car can be built or designed like these. Nevertheless, between the two designs, the upper one is more convincing. This is mainly due to the cabin-to-body ratio. To avoid the mistake made in the second design and prevent other errors, take a close look at the proportions.
First, try to find out the length and height of the car. To find the correct wheelbase, it helps to take one wheel as a base unit. Now you can guess how many wheels fit between the front and rear axle.
Also, you can see that the overhang of the front and rear is about half a wheel. The rear is a bit shorter. The height is slightly more than one wheel.
In the next step, try to get a sense of the cabin-to-body ratio. This knowledge is extremely important as most cars are roughly made out of two boxes, which are the cabin and body. You should know in what ratio the upper box (cabin) is set on the lower box (body). You will never go wrong assuming a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio. Whether you are drawing a side view or a perspective view, you should pay attention to it.
The roofline of a car is usually not straight but follows a dynamic curve. The head of the occupants usually determines the peak of the curve. To find the location of the roofline, it helps to draw a straight line down and see in what proportion the line intersects the ground line.
Next, look at the shoulder. You will notice that almost every automobile has a certain angle. This gives the whole car a forward motion and makes it look dynamic even when it is not moving. You can emphasize this angle sometimes more and sometimes less.
Now, you can also check where the front light and the rear light are positioned. If you draw a vertical line from the beginning of the light downwards, you’ll see that it overlaps the front and rear wheel.
Another important point is the position of the A-pillar. It gives you information about the angle of the windshield. If you extend the A-pillar, you see that it is tangent to the front wheel. The door joint is usually located where the A-pillar begins. In this case, slightly offset behind the front wheel.
After completing the steps above, you’ll have an approximate skeleton of the car. When drawing your design on this skeleton, you will always hit the right proportions.
Now, you have all the information needed to start drawing your own car. If you follow this tutorial, you can be sure to meet the basic package and technical requirements of designing a vehicle with the right proportions. This will make your sketch look convincing and realistic.
In this tutorial, you will learn how to create a complete pickup truck design in 5 days!
As a student, it has always been a great challenge for me to create a design proposal from three different views. Not only must the same idea be presented from three different perspectives, but all three views should also have the same proportions, colors, etc. For me, that has always been very challenging, and it still is today.
In this example project, I want to show you the process of making a complete vehicle proposal in less than one week. You will learn how to make a complete car design proposal that contains three views at a reasonable time. This ability is essential for working in the auto industry, where it is important to deliver qualitative results in a short time.
In this tutorial, I will use a very easy way of CAD: just using lines without creating 3D surfaces. This saves time and can be performed even without much CAD knowledge. This is a special technique, and it is not a rule to be followed, but it should give you an idea of how to speed up our design process. It’s very helpful for beginners as well as professionals.
Now, if you follow the steps below, you can design a full pickup truck proposal in less than one week.
Having a good side view is essential since all further steps will be built on this side view. Before this step, draw some side views and select an idea. This side view is the base and is more important than anything else. When you start a new project, focus only on making the side view. Don’t care about the front and rear ideas yet. Not a single perspective drawing is necessary.
In this step, pay special attention to the right proportion and balance. This can take some time, so don’t rush. Choose a reference to get the overall dimensions right. Just use a real car image from the internet as a base. After correcting the proportion and balance in Photoshop, refine the shapes and paint in some color.
Now that you have a good side view, it is time to go into 3D. Do not generate real 3D surfaces, but instead, focus on a line model. Use a free version of Autodesk Alias, as it is a common program in the automotive industry. Upload your sketch in the software and trace the lines. When retracing the lines in 3D, try to stay as close as possible to the original sketch. Be very accurate and do not change anything.
After you have drawn the lines on a 2D plane, pull them into a 3D space. To get the right dimension for width and certain curvature, it is helpful to use an already existing 3D model as a base. Or if you can’t find a suitable one, just use a blueprint. A good source of free 3D models is Grab.com. It is always good to have templates to guide you.
After you are satisfied with the line model, you can choose three views. You should choose views that describe your design in the best possible way.
Do not over-dramatize your view. Rather, try to take a view that conveys the most information to the viewer.
Take a screenshot and increase the contrast to make the lines more visible. Print them out on real paper and choose a size that makes it comfortable for you to sketch.
Now, you can start drawing an idea for the front and rear of the vehicle. When sketching, do not waste so much time. It is ok when some areas in the sketch remain empty.
Next, it’s time to scan your sketches and load them onto Photoshop. Now the advantage of this technique becomes apparent. You no longer have to worry about proportion, balance, or perspective because all the information is already included in the line model based on the side view from step one. That saves you a lot of time.
You can now invest this time in making a cool rendering. If you are not completely satisfied with your design yet, do not try to change. Try to finish your design and bring it to an end. If you’ve executed the steps correctly, congratulations! You have finished a complete pickup truck design in less than one week!
This is a step-by-step tutorial that will teach you how to create a digital car rendering yourself.
We start by clarifying what a good basis for each rendering is and how best to start. Next, we will use a digital brush to define the shapes. In the end, we will apply reflections and details to get an outstanding result.
1. Creating the sketch base
One of the most important tips for a successful rendering is to have a good and solid base. By “base,” I mean a hand sketch, digital sketch, or line model. If you don’t have a base, things can get complicated and frustrating. So do not explore shapes without a solid sketch base, simply because it’s easy to lose yourself and waste time.
After you’ve created a base, at this point, the actual design process and shape development has already taken place. The rendering is a more detailed illustration that helps make a visually appealing presentation, which, in turn, helps sell the proposal to the customer.
2. Defining the surroundings
Before the coloring process, you should be roughly aware of what your surroundings look like. It helps to prepare a scene to roughly visualize your thoughts. It’s not necessary to do this every time, but it helps you understand what’s going on.
In the example below, there is a primary light source coming near the front of the car, there is a wall behind the car in an outside environment, and the sun is shining. So, we should somehow transfer this scene to our reflections.
3. Blocking out
In this step, we divide the car into three different blocks. This helps you visualize the different materials later.
Divide the vehicle into the main body, greenhouse, and grill and wheels.
Then, create paths with which you get a sharp edge and an overall clean look. Select the path and fill it out with a base color.
Cut out the wheels from the original sketch and transform them a little bit. Make them elliptical and correct their position.
Once this step is done, half the rendering is done. You can’t go wrong anymore.
4 & 5. Shading
In this step, try to describe the shape using different gray values. The rule is: Whenever the value changes, the shape also changes.
Try to use the correct values. The rendering will look unrealistic if you use the wrong values. If you want to know more about the topic, I definitely recommend Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling’s book “How to Draw,” in which they explain the fundamentals of light and shadow.
By the way, never choose white as your brightest value. It will not work. We will only paint certain spots white at the end when we use the color dodge tool in Photoshop to really highlight certain areas.
6. Adding reflections
Don’t draw a photorealistic render here. The reflections should be designed as simply and effectively as possible. It will be helpful to check the surfaces.
In the example mentioned earlier, the car is in front of a wall. That information should show in your reflection. Moreover, all surfaces that point upwards should reflect the sky. And don’t forget the greenhouse. If you want to create lighting effects, simply use the color dodge tool.
7. Adding details
Details take a lot of effort and time. If you don’t make an effort in this step and don’t invest time, the details will often just disturb and not help your rendering. I definitely recommend adding details because they help the rendering a lot and make it much more attractive to the viewer.
In order to create details quickly and effectively, I suggest using real photos. Use a photo of an existing car’s grill, and you’ll save time. Also, add some mirrors.
Happy holidays to you all! I have an interesting treat for you on this Xmas holiday. I often mention that my very full time career means a lot less posts appearing here. During 2021 an interesting solution to this appeared – in the form of another contributor. I was very pleased to be contacted by a talented vehicle designer called Marco Braun. Marco offered to write a few guides to car design that complimented my own. Today I publish these guides in a festive gift bundle! I ask that you also check Marco’s own web portfolio and contact him if you are interested in working with Marco! Marco was one of the designers responsible for the recent Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept car and I am very pleased to have his expert contribution to this blog.
Marco Braun is an expert in the field of Automotive Design. In February 2017, he graduated with a B.A. in Transportation Design from the University of Pforzheim. In the past, Mr. Braun has worked on experimental concepts, advanced, competition, and production design for the Lexus and Toyota brands, in Tecno Art Research, a design studio in Nagoya-shi, Japan. Since the start of my professional education, it has been my vision to play a part in the development of transportation and mobility designs of the future. E-Mail email@example.com
The history of the floating roof or, the uninteresting curiosity of the separated C-pillar.
Automotive styling is very much a fashion business. Designers are a rare breed, existing in very low numbers. They study at the same places and learn from each other. They change studios quite often, and sometimes in packs (headhunted by each other). Add the huge risks involved in billion dollar business decisions and we constantly will see what looks like copy-cat trends in automotive styling, but are actually a lot more subconscious in implementation. There are even trends in design sketch styles- but I think that may deserve it’s own blog post. The fashion industry carefully monitors and plans around trends, and this is also true in automotive (particularly CMF departments) but in terms of exterior design the intention is often to appear different (brand recognition) but the result can be quite similar if a design is “on trend”. Sometimes there are glaringly obvious copies- but more commonly we just see the results of parallel inspirations and attempts to appear on consumers radar as the “next best thing”. Recently my fleet of cars increased with a 2014 BMW i3 joining. This wonderful design (exterior by Nicolas Guille) inspired me to think about it’s stylistic influences. For around 10 years we have seen a trend for elaborate C-pillar dressage and floating roofs, along with abrupt changes in window/belt lines. Let me try to explain, and perhaps uncover a timeline. It might not be very interesting….
Authors own i3…. with paint-over graphic.
The first evidence of floating roof designs probably came from our likeable original gangsters of car styling– the US of A. The 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air is pretty much the archetypal elaborate Coupé roof protege. The Bel Air continued this style for many iterations and is remembered almost exclusively for it. Many pre-war cars had contrasted colour roofing. The materials used were soft fabrics and coverings were often temporary. Pre-war was an era when most cars were not fixed roof. The rise of monocoque construction post war (from aircraft metal working technology) with reduced costs of panel stamping in mass production, meant that the the fabric roof died out due to a reversal of costs. Metal was now king, but the US stylists used paint choices and styling lines to remind us of the elegant past of coach-built carriages and pre-war romance. Post war emotional styling was the next big trend.
In Europe the roof shapes and design were much more pragmatic due to manufacturing methods(similar technology from aircraft) but with more subdued styling that owed a lot to housing (actual miniature gutters around the domed roof!) rather than high-tech space-age ideas. It is often joked that a Rover, or Rolls Royce is a stately home on wheels, and this is stylistically and thematically true (inside and outside). The 1959 Mini shows a long-lasting example of this style, continued as pastiche to this day with all Mini designs. Just before the mini appeared, Europe create one of the most original and innovative car designs ever from Flaminio Bertoni in 1955. The Citroen DS. The same guttering can be seen, which also neatly hides the edges of the roof panel, but the jet-set style of American cars is also hinted at. The Citroen was remarkable for so many innovative technologies and the roof was yet another, being made from GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). Matching a plastic panel colour to painted metal (and perhaps even painting it) was not easy in the 1950s, so I believe this might explain the decision not to match the colours on the cheaper ID19 model based on the DS21. The DS/ID roof was also bolted on, with a rubber seal between it and the metal frame. On later models the plastic roof was bonded with adhesive! In 1966, this was truly space age, and links very nicely to perhaps the spiritual successor of the DS for innovation and technology – the BMW i3. A plastic roof panel again, but this time recycled CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) is again glued onto the roof frame. A glass roof was available on the BMW, but Citroen reportedly offered an even more daring entirely transparent panel for the DS! Glass roofs are a modern trend, perhaps publicised heavily by Tesla, but Citroen did it first over 65 years ago.
Between these two important vehicles were some lesser known brave designs that tried tricks with C-pillar design. The most outstanding of all was the Renault Avantime of 1999. Patrick Le Quement lead a major renaissance of Renault design, and French car design in general, during the 1990s. Beginning with some rather sensible unexciting designs – which were excellent examples of the late 80s and early 90s industrial design aesthetic (strong aerodynamic and engineering-led designs). The late 90s and leading into the new millennium Renault’s financial position enabled Le Quement to take some bold next steps. The Avantime was a very strong example of his modernist approach. Even the vehicle type it represented was totally unique, a 2 door MPV/Coupe/Luxury sedan “crossover” which sounds strange even now. BMW later got close to this concept with their 5 series Gran Turismo of 2009 (F07).
The failure of the bold works of Le Quement perhaps set back car styling a few years, (along with perhaps the Fiat Multipla) to it’s usual cautious self. Fiat followed quite soon with their new Panda design, with a utilitarian approach to window graphics, somewhat similar to the i3 created 10 years later. It wasn’t until Chris Bangle gained a powerful position at BMW that things finally took a step forwards. From 2003 when Bangle released his iconic E60 5 series it was game on, and Citroen certainly took note of this. They explored more interesting design shapes, and their 2005 C-Sport Lounge concept car showed bold treatment of it’s C-pillar, a lot like their famous DS model of the past. The inspiration seemed to come full circle, when that Citroen inspired the creation of an entire new brand: DS, and the concept car developed into the DS5 production model of 2011. The smaller DS3 model was released first, and we saw that the C-pillar treatment and contrast colour roof was emphasised as a key DS brand trait. The DS brand really brought these ideas to the mass-market and this is when other manufactures began to borrow this European flair. The Japanese (Nissan), and Korean car companies embraced this flair, in an attempt to appeal to European tastes and the Koreans are still playing with more styling ideas than perhaps any other manufacturers. Something that we have seen the DS brand introduce into the mainstream, is the shark fin B-pillar treatment seen on the DS3 model first. This forward facing styling feature, is reminiscent of the reverse rake screen of the Citroen AMI-6. The AMI 6 was Citroen’s most extreme take on the interesting styling of a C-pillar. It is the opposite angle to which we are accustomed, and the DS has a B-pillar which reverses the usual directional angle that we expect in this area. This shark fin is something we see moved to the C-pillar in a lot of contemporary Kia designs for example.
Lastly a couple of honourable mentions to bold designs that have pushed floating roof, contrast colours, and elaborate C-pillar designs into new genres. The Aston Martin DB11 (designed by Julian Nunn and Leighanne Earley) is still controversial after it’s 2016 debut, thanks mostly to it’s floating C-pillar design. This seemed much too “fashionable” for die-hard Aston traditionalists. Warnings were given that it may date, but has it? The trend is still around 5 years later, and also the design had many advantages. One reason it was green-lit was for the customisation options it gave Aston buyers. Different materials, and different colour combinations (including non- contrasting) are available in almost infinite variations. Aston wanted to emphasise they were a bespoke car company. You can play with those yourself on their configurator…. The c-pillar also conveyed a hidden message, regarding the innovative aerodynamic design. Air is ingested at the leading edge of the C-pillar, the rear of the second side window. Air travels down the C-pillar internal structure, either side of the luggage space, and exists in a slot across the rear deck. This creates a spoiler, an invisible air spoiler, to give high speed stability, known as Airblade. The invisible spoiler is one of the DB11’s greatest design features, and means we get that lovely smooth clean rear deck
A car that I owned (from new in 2017, but replaced in 2021) is the dramatic and bold Toyota C-HR. This coupe crossover was a styling-trick tour de force. A real life text book for aspiring car designers to learn every trick from. There has perhaps not been any car in history that employed so many styling tricks in ONE vehicle, it probably deserves a blog post of its own. It did also hit the trend of contrast colour roof, with a floating C-pillar. By now I hope you realise that floating, means that the roof structure, and the side/door structure of the car seem to be separated somehow- as if the roof just floats over the body of the car. Toyota also used this transitional area, between side and roof, to cram in a “hidden” rear door handle. It was not completely invisible, but it was impractical and a purely styling based decision to put it there. I found it useful as a parent because my young children at the time could not reach to open the door themselves. This meant I had more control of where and when they opened it!
Authors own C-HR… with added snow in complex C-pillar design
The most important and radical cars since the DS, as mentioned earlier, were the BMW i3 and i8. These cars were previewed by the advanced thinking, efficient dynamics concepts. The first of these debuted in 2009. The floating surfaces, and new shapes and structures were made possible by carbon construction techniques. The concepts were perhaps created with total freedom, and the production cars could follow with innovative surfaces. In the case of these cars, the styling was to create the feeling that almost every component of the car was floating- and not connected to any other component. This is a huge leap away from the solidity and formality previously expected of vehicle aesthetics. An annihilation of the Bauhaus-like principles that car design still hinted at, but did not respect, in terms of being pure emotional styling exercises, not rational products. There was of course some functionality implied by these cars styling, mostly aerodynamic flow management and the visual representation of it. This can be done without the flowing aesthetics, as evidenced in cars such as the McLaren Senna, or almost any covered-wheel race car. The i8 followed on from the concept, and put in practice a reoccurring aesthetic which had a surface starting at the A-pillar, flowing all the way to the rear deck, via a C-pillar (B-pillar was invisible, blacked out, or not present). The glass and dark coloured body of the cars were sandwiched in between. This has become a trademark style of all BMW i products. The forward thinking of the original two i3 and i8 products, means that many other brands and designs have been influenced by them. The separation of the roof- with a flowing line from A pillar to rear most pillar, with blacked out section in between has become a true car styling trope of the 2020s.
I tried to list a timeline of significant cars with this styling feature- but my knowledge will have significant gaps, and with a current trend such as this you will easily find many more cars with the feature. Asia (Chinese brands in particular) will be home to a huge number of models with this fashionable styling idea. Pick any brand, for example I will choose Geely, and there it is again on at least 3 models.
During the more pragmatic 1970s, 80s and even 90s, there were cars with styling features on their C-pillars which might be classified here but mostly the features were to hide welds, or act as air vents. In the 70s the black vinyl roof was a popular look, but without the floating style of the C-pillar being different in colour to the roof and body side. The 80s and 90s also saw aero look as a trend, and perhaps another blog post can explore this. Aerodynamic aesthetics originally meant lack of features, and quite uniform shapes. One example might be the Renault Fuego from 1980, and the same year the extremely small division at the base of the Audi Coupe C-pillar. Perhaps if you find more examples of this aesthetic, post them in the comments section.
EDIT: Thanks to replies on Twitter- and in the comments section, I decided to add some reader suggestions in another gallery.
Debate seems to centre on what counts as a floating C-pillar, and I agree that not all my examples “float”. There has been some designs mentioned with a blacked out C-pillar, such as the Ford Granada Scorpio. Yes a black painted C-pillar does indeed create a floating roof, this is true, but the added upwards kink or other changes of colour or material, are the main exaggerated versions we see as a modern trend. Citroen have had this feature on nearly every model since the DS, and the XM is reminiscent of the BMW i3 for sure. Meanwhile after writing this post, Genesis said “hold my beer” and created one of the strangest C-pillar designs we’ve seen for a long time with their new BEV, the GV60. Hard to describe (essentially a severe V graphic) but I’m not a fan.
Speedsters. There are a few around suddenly… and the reason? Rivals are reacting to Ferrari and their Monza SP1/SP2. I want to quickly write this post about probably my favourite production car design right now (in 2021) and it’s the now 3 year old design of the Ferrari Monza SP1. The single seat version is unique among the supercar collector toys (barring the BAC Mono, which is also a superb design) in having a completely pure selfishly solo driving experience. Along with the front engine layout giving a classical long bonnet this leaves beautiful expenses of bodywork to be sculpted. Perhaps because the overall concept is so extreme, the Monza received a relatively tame and minimalist surfacing language in counterpoint. It also appears rather less aggressive than the current crop of super and hyper cars, with its retro nod to the original 750 Monza. Just beautiful.
Honourable mention to some of my other favourite car styling currently in production- in no particular order:
Land Rover Defender. Another design with exquisite surfacing and such a good product it affects sales of Range Rovers.
Toyota CH-R. Very radical and has influenced the styling of every other Toyota. Good enough that I bought (and recently sold) one.
Mazda 3. Such creativity and flair is rare in the cheap Golf class of car. The entire Mazda range is superb currently, with beautiful interiors also.
Volvo XC40. The quality of this design in all areas is astonishing, and the CMF team at Volvo consistently produce the best interior schemes!
Aston Martin DB11. A superbly judged update to Aston design language which has proven to be modern and timeless.
Hyundai Ioniq 5. One of the most significant hatchback designs of the 21st century? Retro and modern, familiar but new. Very interesting indeed.
Porsche Taycan. An amazing response to the threat from Tesla. Stylistically the best non-911 Porsche you can buy? Difficult to say which version looks best, standard or the Cross Turismo version.
Jaguar I-Pace. Not an SUV or an hatchback, just a unique size and shape of vehicle because it’s an EV. A very clever and futuristic product.
Let me know in the comments what your favourite 2021 available production designs are!
When the new BMW M3 and M4 were announced it sent car Twitter into commentary not seen since the days of Bangle Butts. We all know about those massive upright grilles, but those are really not the controversial part of the design. My first instinct was that this felt like a turning point in German car design, perhaps an indicator of the end to its influence. Design paradigms and trends now work from East to West. Or has this been true for some time? Asia dominates, and the world follows. Traditional car companies find themselves in a race to the death. Deathrace 2000, a race against time to keep producing interesting niche ICE products, that will burn up the remaining desire for dino-fuel dinosaurs. Where once we had fanatical attention to surfacing, and products with timeless (often unfashionable) design, refined artfully in clay, we now have panic stricken factories of old metal. Those institutions took the rough ideas of young hormone-fuelled designers, passed them through mature managers hands, and used skilled artisans to model and finesse with highly developed processes. The designs were calmed and matured internally before the public ever saw the “rough cuts” of the process, and the designers themselves were contemplative and considered. The 2020 BMW M3/M4 is not a refined design, and neither are other contemporaries such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA. Is there no time to refine? Products must be rushed, clay must be milled from quick CAD models, quick, schnell schnell! Time is money! The oil runs out eventually! The answer to creating the ultimate emotional impactful design, is to let those testosterone fuelled sketches make it to production unharmed. Nobody draws over a package anymore, because duh- it’ll ruin the character! It will lose the raw emotion! How is this happening? Designers have power.
BMW is now a styling-led company (a SKETCH-led company!). This is unprecedented. Engineers create average products with average components under the skin- and designers must sell using styling. Front wheel drive BMWs are the canary in the coal mine- the indicator that chassis engineers have lost the argument. Bangle talked of his legacy at BMW being the communication of design and engineering, of opening the dialogue. Unfortunately after his departure, that dialogue seems to have turned to domination by the stylists. Engineers have been converted into stylists! Watch BMWs own launch film, where we see Mr M (Markus Flasch) talking about the “dramatic” design elements, and rather laughably claiming the front is minimalist in design style. The bodywork is functional that’s for sure, and the wide rear arches of the M3 are a good example of just not even bothering to integrate them. They are simply just wider. It has been mentioned that this is nothing new for a 4-door M car, but the severity of the highlights is glaring this time.
Horrible vertical video alert!! Because: BMW is young and cool… and uses Insta stories, but on YouTube…. what?
Car design is the history of surface control. From the days when each body was slowly crafted from sheet metal, until now, after investment was made in ultimate stamping technologies. Now the turning point has come for the end of artisanal elegance. Digital and fast creation means no surface refinement- just surface entertainment. Bangle began this, but it was still controlled. Lexus and Toyota broke the rules- Lexus in particular went from copying the refinement of German surfacing (but with even higher production tolerances and quality) to abandoning restraint and throwing shapes! Metal stamping technology seems to have progressed so much that almost any combination of shapes and draw is possible. Steel enables sharper radii than aluminium and Japanese companies never use aluminium (obvious exception of the NSX!). I mentioned in a tweet that Lexus began this lowering of “quality”, but what I meant was the throwing away of restraint. This was fun and modern. Surface entertainment is not a bad thing. The BMW Gina concept, which was not even made from metal, allowed creases to be alive and moving. The early days of Lexus, with the LS400 and GS300 were very European in simple solid (heavy in the case of GS300) surfacing with a fanatical attention to manufacturing tolerances and quality. Toyota wanted emotion for the increasingly Americanised Lexus brand, and they pursued it by messing around with the sheet metal. After 3 generations of Jaguar-like European looking Lexus GS models, suddenly in 2011 the GS had intricate surface “entertainment”. This production car marked the progress of Toyota design making intentional mistakes. The slow burning Lexus LFA project enabled Toyota to gain confidence in developing this unique form language, from 2003 to 2011. Intentionally busy “not calm” design. Flicks, movements, changes in line direction that do not connect. More like a Jackson Pollack painting- vibrant and alive. Vibrations in sheet metal. It was very interesting, and BMW were at it during the same period, with the 2010 5er F10 being a successful evolution from Bangle’s flame surfacing. I really like what Toyota have grown into though, and I own a C-HR which is definitely my favourite in this reckless abandonment of restraint. To break rules, first you must know the rules, and this is what we see with flamboyant vehicle designs.
The thought of this influencing the big German brands seemed unlikely, especially as Bangle had started the whole idea at BMW… but seemingly they had returned to more traditional forms once he had left. I am suggesting that his legacy was empowering the designers, and perhaps unleashing that power with greater success than even he imagined. The designers are running amok, chief designers have been and gone amidst the chaos? Toyota are also empowering their designers, with other Japanese brands following, and the Koreans are boldly experimenting too. What these rival companies also did, was to shorten the development time and production lifespan of new vehicles. Cars and their design are now very disposable. At first the quality suffered, but not any longer. Toyota have perfected speed with quality, as is “The Toyota Way”. With this speed, design can be fashion-led because it will be changed soon. A return to the original Harley Earl seasonal styling changes. Designs can be rushed to market, signed-off digitally, tooling made from first attempts at surfacing (do they still bother with Class A?). BMW are following Toyota in this process style, but their quality is lagging behind (which is a shock from a German company)
Later I found that lots of design sketches/renders were released by BMW relating to the design, but these have no signature. We can trace the author through Instagram, so I can name the designer. A truly talented young person, who we can be in awe of… but, these sketches feel critical to explaining the rather typical design process that is happening.
We can examine the power the designers have- from just a sketch. It is clear that these sketches are respected, they are perhaps worshipped and followed right to the end by an unquestioning team. Is there no room for questioning why the designer didn’t match the angle of the headlamp corner, to the surface angle of the grille form? Who didn’t speak up about this? On analysis, the drawings are superb, and if they date from before any 3D models were created they show the designer is remarkably skilled in rendering surface forms. We also cannot blame testosterone as the designer was female in this case. If we look at the production car surfacing, we can see that the designer’s intention has not quite remained intact. There were as usual, many ambiguous areas on the sketches, which needed careful control and additional work to transition in 3D between major surfaces. Nothing new there. Edges change from soft large radii, to razor sharp, or vice versa. This is impossible in real life, in real clay/metal/carbon. Sketches are often like Escher paintings, because they are 2D in nature. Optical illusions and trickery taught in design rendering YouTube tutorials, but the well developed design processes brings multiple talents to refine those sketches and resolve the design. The bright yellow launch colour hid the contours well, but I took a look at the M3 and it reveals soft areas where the modellers simply had to “fudge” the result to try and resolve where and how all those surface ideas ideas meet. In particular, check the area in the corner of the headlamp and nose.
Probably the most poignant images that the designer created- were the head on renders. This is where we see the USP of the design, the focus of extreme DRG (Down the Road Graphic) that BMW wanted to achieve. This car needs to be noticed, and we can also see the bold simple shapes the designer intended. The intention is clear, but what about details? The way those nostrils join the lower part of the front valance for example, was not thought through and the result was clearly whatever hack the production CAD engineers could make do with.
Let it sink in.
Well, the length of time taken to work on this blog post has helped me learn a little more that might inform my thoughts. This section was written much later than the earlier paragraphs. There has been interesting commentary on this design by other professionals. One of the most diplomatic examples came from Ian Callum, during a long chat with the YouTube/TV presenter Jonny Smith, he picks up the BMW question around the 16min mark of the interview. Other avenues were explored by the contributors team at Road Rat Magazine, which were not so diplomatic let us say, and you can find those in comments on their Instagram.
“Where on earth this obsession with putting all the design effort into these monstrous front ends when the designers have lost control of all the surfaces is a bit of a mystery to me.”
I learned something very important from the amazing new podcast by Sam Ofsowitz, which is called “Crown Unfiltered”. According to his contacts in the CAD business, BMW are using poly meshes (using Autodesk Maya) for sketch modelling and speed in the design process. This is not uncommon now, and the evidence can be seen in cars on the road. The significance here is in process, and is all about the philosophy of design at BMW. Speed is now taking precedent to surfacing and transition quality, or finesse. The obsession with Class A, G2 curvature or any other buzzwords regarding pure quality of transitions seems to be over. This change from using Alias NURBS modelling is a huge shift. Design is always a result of which tools are being used, right from the early days of using clay to Magic Markers for flat renderings. The change in fast and “loose” modelling tools is evident in the instinctive reaction I had to this design- where the lack of finesse to the final results is evident… but clearly an intentional process change. I may not have worked on many production vehicle concepts, but in my own career the quality of any product is down to the quality of it’s creation process. Great teams, and great processes, create great products. Tinkering with those highly established, but very slow processes, is inevitable and new tools are most welcome if they improve the design process. I love new technology and I’m a huge fan of Maya (as I used it every day professionally for many years) but these tools also present risks. The first cars designed with Alias were problematic (lacking “feel” in the surfaces) and often had to be re-designed by hand. Now after more than 30 years of using CAD, we are seeing new issues creeping back in- when teams are so large, and so many fast iterations are needed, “quick and dirty” tools are being used with quick and dirty results.
Great process creates great products. Change your process at your peril….
This blog is titled autoSTYLING for a reason. I couldn’t get a car design URL…. but seriously it is important that the word styling was used. I am a design lecturer, but when I started this blog I just wanted to talk about cars as a passionate hobby and only in terms of aesthetics. Car design is a complex process but the members of the team that are called designers mostly work in the area of aesthetics. The design departments that were initiated in the 1950s, were defined by one template in particular, in Harley Earl’s GM “styling” studio. Principally the aim was to sell (and re-sell) similar cars every year, with new visual gimmicks and colours, inspired by the seasonal nature of the fashion industry. This was a clever change to the automotive business, where previously people bought cars that could potentially be fixed and last for many many years. It is something Henry Ford struggled with, once everyone had bought his Model T. They didn’t need a new one.
So we entered into an era when cars became desirable and fashionable consumer products, marketed to us as lifestyle accessories and whimsical statements about our wealth or status. Bachelor? Buy a car with no space for kids! Where do design teams come into this? Well, they are briefed to design products initiated by market research, and possibly years of sales experience feedback. Designers are asked to deliver a product for precisely defined customer wants and desires. We are now so conditioned to this aspect of cars that it’s not something we think about, but some consumers push against the impractical feeling or aura given off by styling. The growth of SUV demand really began with customers buying ex-military vehicles for use on the road. In the UK for example, functional farm vehicles were seen in country villages and the non-farmers who lived there took note. Land Rover had a great idea to combine a road car (Rover)- with their farm work-machine to create the Range Rover. Still this was not quite utilitarian enough for some, and those people continued to buy and use the “proper” Land Rovers on road. The majority wanted the comfort of the Range Rover though.
The Land Rover Discovery was essentially a reverse of this, attempting to cater for utilitarian vehicle customers AND school run urban users with one vehicle spun off the Range Rover chassis. This was in direct response to the popularity of Japanese 4×4 rivals such as the Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun in the UK).
In general though, cars continued their push to be marketed and sold as lifestyle accessories, and the large corporate car producers had the money (and risk aversion) to carefully study their consumers. These companies learned the motivations for customers to purchase a vehicle, and researched niches to be filled. The evolution in customer focused design has led to diverse ranges of cars from most manufactures, and in 2009 Nissan pushed the SUV craze to its’ current situation with their 2WD Qashqai. A very clever, if somewhat unoriginal concept, to merge the on road user scenarios of SUVs with the mechanical economy and low cost of any ordinary road car. The benefits were numerous and despite the usual lack of foresight by motoring press- the car was obviously going to be a huge success. It was. The same old arguments were brought forth for the Qashqai… that it lacked functionality. That customers wanted and needed 4WD, and that they needed utilitarian looks that had been established with actual utility vehicles. They beleived customers only bought off-roaders that could actually off-road, and worse still they seemed to believe that only an ugly non-styled vehicle could ever be capable off-road. All these arguments against the Qashqai were proven completely false, and of course the link to the way a car looks and its function is quite elastic. Nissan knew they were false from their own market research and the relative failure of their previous crossover vehicle (the X-Trail).
No manufacturer gambles $billions before finding out even a little about the likelihood of success or failure.
So this leads me to a recent tweet- and the basis of this post, regarding the press getting things wrong yet again. Since the Range Rover Evoque convertible we are seeing a new breed of seemingly implausible vehicles- in the eyes of the myopic motoring press. The convertible Crossover/SUV. What all commentators on these designs forget- is that the original 4x4s were ALL soft tops. The Jeep, the Land Rover. The lack of roof was an essential part of any lightweight versatile military vehicle. On the farm, the Land Rover Series II developed to have a warmer cab enclosed on 3 sides, and even 4 sides in pick-up form, but still a canvas covered rear. The VW T-Roc cabriolet continues a time honoured tradition of soft tops on off-roaders. What really struck me was the wording of a Top Gear Magazine tweet, to say that designers of the VW had “strayed from the mission statement of an actual utility vehicle”. There are so many things wrong with this statement, but of course TG are joking, much like it’s comedy TV show format. The new Ford Bronco clearly defines itself as a functionality-led design exercise (using it’s aesthetics) and it comes with many options for removing the roof on 3 and 5 door models! So what exactly is the problem with the T-Roc?
I will confess. I do not like the T-Roc convertible, or the very similar Range Rover Evoque Cabriolet. There are aesthetic reasons for this, mostly the very short but tall proportions combined with a full convertible providing no B or C pillars. The short square shape plus canvas top- is too close to a baby pram/stroller look for me, or perhaps even a skip. For the same reason, I don’t think the Mini Convertible is visually successful either. This is aesthetically opposite to the utilitarian or military design aesthetic of nearly all off-road vehicles. Roll-over in a T-Roc convertible? Dread to think what that would be like, it certainly looks less safe, and as for flexibility of the monocoque? Engineers are shuddering across Wolfsburg. The “joke” that TG are attempting here, is that this car is NOT designed to be an off-roader. Well yes, that is patently obvious. The design team have made no mistake at all, and were well briefed by marketing on exactly who the target customer was. Those customers would have bought a convertible Golf GTi 30 years ago, or a BMW 3 series convertible maybe 20 years ago. Today’s urban upmarket small but classy vehicle of choice is: yes the baby crossover. The amount of drivers that want to experience sunshine on their heads is significant. Range Rover pioneered, and upwardly mobile VW followed. The trope of “wrong car in wrong place” was created by innovative Car Magazine a long time ago, and to be fair, it can still be very entertaining. It’s definitely a reminder that Top Gear is not about sensible automotive journalism and that’s fine. What is clear is that people need to face up to reality, and that is: nobody buys any vehicle for truly practical reasons, with truly rational and logical selection criteria. Brand and image and styling all affect us subconsciously. That skill of manipulating the observers thoughts and emotions, is exactly what excites me about car design and why I started this blog about styling.
Car Magazine have a great history of this, and the above link shows a classic of the genre. Top Gear TV series took these odd juxtapositions to extremes. Mostly they adapted this style of article into long distance adventure drives, sometimes with the ideal (but old and broken) machinery, sometimes with the opposite- such as an Esprit V8 across Argentina (attempted… because: Clarkson). The new Ford Bronco has been accepted with huge praise, and of course this is exactly because it is much more capable than it needs to be in terms of off-road credentials, and the styling aligns with the implied functionality. In design language, we call this over-specification and this type of product is all around us. A certain demographic tends to favour over-specification. Wearing all condition trainers/sneakers that were designed to hike up Everest, cycling 2 miles across London on a 6kg carbon road bicycle that was designed to win the Tour de France, while wearing a 1000m water resistant divers watch (yes these exist, 1km under water where you will be crushed to death!) in case there is a brief shower. All of this over-specification leads to some impractical cars… in the “wrong” scenarios, and in another post maybe I will need to address the Ineos Grenadier vs Land Rover Defender debate (seems relevant to this post). To summarise for now I will simply suggest that the reader demographics of TG Magazine do not match the buyer demographic of the T-Roc cabriolet, and the result is ridicule…. which precisely none of it’s buyers will ever read.