The Basics of Car Styling & Design Language

Often when we ask people why one car design is better than another, they can’t produce a convincing answer. They like certain car styles, but many times they do not know why. There are a lot that goes into the process of designing a car and as an ex-automotive/industrial designer, I would like to share a few essential rules of the car design.

Start with an iconic silhouette

The first impression of a car design is usually formed by its silhouette, which means that we look at its overall shape before the details. Most of us are capable of recognizing an animal by a simple outlined shape, so it’s important to try and incorporate this same iconic principle within your conceptual designs. A striking iconic silhouette creates a strong product identity that will stand out among multiple designs.

As shown in examples, it is clear how the silhouette affects the attitude and the personality of the car.

It is all about proportion

Within a silhouette, determining the proportions is a highly important aspect of the design process. As with any product, perfect proportions are seen as the key to aesthetics and harmony. The proportion affects a stance, the body language of the car that gives you the impression of forward-movement even while standing still. Here are the rules of proportion to follow.

1. Wheel size and wheelbase

Each type of car has a different wheelbase configuration dictated by the amount of volume and space the vehicle is to occupy. This is why we use the wheel as our baseline measurement for the length, width, and height of the car. Once the wheels are positioned, we can construct line by line the rest of the car.

Many people ask questions about wheel size. It might be true that big wheels give a better look to any car, but you must not have them too big because it could look like a toy car. The wheelbase as well as the wheel size, are very important for the car dynamics and for the interior space.

2. The position and the orientation of the A pillar

Pillars are the vertical or near vertical supports of an car’s window area or greenhouse — designated respectively as the A, B, C pillar moving in side view from the front to rear. If we draw an extend from the base of the A pillar it will end near the centre of the front wheel. Exception: This rule can be differently applied to the front rear wheel drive, rear-engine, or mid-engine cars for technical reasons.

3. Between the glass and the body

One of the most important aspects of the car is given by the proportions between the glass and the body. Usually the height of the glass is up to 1/3 of the total car’s height. Less than 1/3 means a sportier and more aggressive looking vehicle. The more glass surface you give, the practical aspect of the car is increased.

4. Total height of the body

Lastly, the total height of the body should be about two and 1/4 — two and 1/2 times the height of a wheel.

Character line creates gesture

All cars have their own shoulder lines, varying from being barely visible, to being the dominant feature of the car. The shoulder can rise or fall as shown above. Usually the main shoulder line of the car is not straight horizontal. It has a slight angle which is known as wedge.

Remember: Every line of the car is curved with a tension to emphasize the dynamic movement of the car. Within a curved line, you must not have more than 2 points of curvature.

All surfaces are curved

When you look at a human body, it is visually apparent if it is healthy and firm. This interpretation of health is applicable to cars as well. You can visually tell when the form of a car is at its best. Every single surface on any car is curved, providing a sense of motion. There is a certain mathematical line or arc that connects two points. If you manipulate the point of tension on a curve, even by a half-millimeter, it can change the whole character of a car’s shape while retaining all critical dimensional points. This is why clay is still one of the best sculpting mediums to achieve a level of finesse which you simply can’t see on a computer screen.

Graphic details, color and materials

The combination of graphic art and styling play a considerable role in the overall aesthetic success of a car. The graphical details, colors and materials have to relate to each other harmoniously to create distinctive personality.

BMW, Audi, Maserati have their own distinctive front faces.

Less is more

We all know a phrase “less is more”. Simplicity is often harder than complexity. All the forms and surfaces should complement each other but not so much that it distracts its users with too much cluttered details.

Hope this helps!

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