Cars have been getting larger for a long time. Catering to people’s demands means investing in comfortable seats, safety equipment, complex design, physical room in all directions and, recently, battery packs. Obviously, that all takes space, so the size standards have increased even for subcompact models over the past decades.
A negative consequence of that trend is that it affects design. Companies have to keep some visual distinctions from one model to another such as body style and trim to attract different customers, but that becomes increasingly difficult with every car becoming larger. The only resource they have to deal with that is working on design.
Good design is not only about creating stuff, but also by making it look better. Sometimes, it is necessary to give the car a certain characteristic which affects its balance, so it is up for designers to minimize the issue, improve the overall appearance and/or, which is this Chronicle’s topic, find clever ways to change what gets our attention.
What’s the deal with the IDs?
Volkswagen’s decision to develop a whole new lineup for selling electric cars naturally entailed the need for developing a whole new design language for them. The ID models stand out against their siblings by using an overall muscular shape formed by smooth and swoopy lines that contrast with the sleek and angular LED lights and front grille.
The thing is, those cars also have to comply with the latest marketing trends, which demand SUV-like body styles with tall waistline, low-profile windows, and sporty accents to avoid a family-car look. As you can imagine, making the car look large and sleek at the same is quite a challenge: this is why designers have to pull some tricks.
Painting regions in black draws attention away from them especially when the car is moving. Volkswagen did that on both upper and lower portions of the ID cars to disguise part of their size and make them look sleeker. That silver arch above the windows contributes to that by attracting the eyes to the false, more desirable shape of the roof.
Tell me more about that
Blackened lower sections dissimulate the car’s height and make it look lighter, which is appropriate to balance the appearance of larger cars especially when they have a sporty flair. On the upper portion, designers often apply the same effect to either the roof or the pillars to make it sleeker once again or long and solid to some extent.
Silver accents, on the other hand, should be used in small regions because the intention is to make them contrast with the rest of the body. Companies apply them with chrome finish on grilles and frames to high-end trims because they have always been associated to luxury, but there are also cases where they help build the car’s look.
Interestingly enough, both resources are also commonly used when the maker creates a sporty variation. By redesigning the bumpers or simply adding some accessories, it is possible to change the balance between the areas of the body and give it a new look. Now, what can the company do when the car’s normal versions already use all that?
The inverse of the inverse
The ID.4’s brand new GTX variation has been largely praised for representing a new step taken towards normalizing electric cars in the market. Volkswagen was careful not to apply its famous GTI moniker, but went all the way with the rest: a second motor, better performance figures, a larger battery pack and, of course, an exclusive look.
This is where things get interesting: by using different visual components, the GTX ended up with a conventional look. Take a look at the picture: blackening the window arch makes the whole upper portion more discreet while painting the lower section in the body color gives the ID.4 a new, bulkier appearance at low cost. Clever, isn’t it?
If you want another example, you do not even need to leave the ID family: the bigger brother ID.6 uses its own version of their design language in which the roof shares the body color while the window arch has two options: a silver one to resemble its siblings and a matte-black one which makes it look longer and creates a floating roof.
The new normal?
Volkswagen’s designers created a complex appearance with several subtleties for the regular models and made their performance versions go back to basics. While that looks weird at first, it gets a new interpretation once we remember that those are electric cars: they have become an opportunity to subvert many aspects of the car world.
Just like chrome trim, there are several other design resources whose use has been limited to a few applications: carbon fiber look for performance models, black plastic for off-road accessories, bright colors for sporty versions… while that makes it simple to design a car’s details at first, the long-term effect is the saturation of their image.
Subverting those unspoken rules surely demands a lot of work from designers in order to reinterpret how to use each design resource, evaluate the viability of developing some new ones and, more importantly, analyze how people will perceive them. On the other hand, it is an irresistible opportunity to create a lot of new possibilities.
Besides investing in electrification, Volkswagen is using the ID models to test some quite interesting design trends — most of them rooted in subverting the existing ones. Do you think that such experiment has good potential or should automakers stick with all the design conventions they have already formed? Share your opinions below!