Make no mistake about it. Midwestdomestics.org is no stranger to controversy. In fact, our forum consistently talks about things of great importance in the American automotive market. One of the biggest issues that anybody who’s serious about this topic should wrap their mind around involves the essence of design.
Car design goes beyond the shape of the body of the car. It also goes beyond the engine. Instead, it’s all about the soul of the car. Now you may be thinking to yourself that I’m anthropomorphizing cars here. Basically, I’m ripping out things that are unique to the human condition and applying it to an inanimate collection of rubber, steel and plastic.
That may be true, but it goes deeper than that. You have to understand that when people create stuff, and I’m talking about anything ranging from a chair to records to coffee to cars to computers, a little bit of their soul is added to it. I’m not talking about it in a theological or philosophical sense, I’m talking in cultural terms.
You can tell when a car is Japanese and has certain Japanese cultural characteristics based on who the maker of that car is. And that car, regardless of whether it’s sold in Europe, South Africa, Southeast Asia or us, will always be Japanese.
The same applies to American cars. A lot of our cultural DNA is locked into how the car is designed. This is why design discussions must be part of the overall discussion and discourse regarding cars. We’re not just talking about geopolitical context or economic incentives. This goes beyond all that.
The essence of amazing car design really boils down to zeitgeist. How do you capture the essence of the age and the sentiment of people’s hopes, fears, wishes, dreams and fantasies? That’s what it all boils down to because when you look at an American car from the 1960’s with its massive fins and space age like designs and compare these to cars today, the thing that slaps you in the face and pulls at your eyeballs is the fact that cars were designed that way because America, at that time, was trying to get to the moon.
When you look at cars designed from the mid 50’s all the way to the mid 60’s, fins were very big because the space age was part of the American cultural DNA and it made it to the designs of their cars. The same applies to Japanese cars in the 70’s. These things were really small, humble looking, but they were so frugal, efficient and effective. They made an artform of getting you from point A to point B and it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg. That’s what made Japan so rich. They were able to crank out these cheap, long lasting quality cars on a massive scale.
That description summarizes a huge chunk of Japanese psychology and culture. This is why if you are really interested in the essence of amazing car design, you have to pay attention to zeitgeist, what is culturally relevant to the here and now and how it translates to design decisions.
These design decisions are not free floating. We’re long past the age of Plato. Plato had this idea of forms that never change. While the technological infrastructure inside a car does not change, the form changes because it has to.