When styling goes wild

April 12, 2007
Form without function makes no sense when designing products that serve a purpose or do a job.

Form without function makes no sense when designing products that serve a purpose or do a job. But, all things being equal, customers select the better-looking product when faced with two that do the same thing. Yet, although there are similarities to both jobs, industrial designers are not stylists. Consider these examples of "styling gone wild."

Early on, car design borrowed heavily from the aircraft industry. Airplanes with sweptback wings and smooth, slippery fuselages were hot, so these style elements soon found their way into the family sedan. Tail fins became the icon of an era. The look of these ranged from great to ridiculous. But tail fins eventually disappeared, probably because everyone realized they served no useful purpose (like spoilers).

A new design sensibility then came into vogue, bringing econoboxes such as the VW Rabbit and the Chrysler K-car. The pendulum had swung in the opposite direction. As a pendulum is apt to do, it kept swinging. In the eighties and early nineties, most cars looked like penny-loafers, again for no particular reason. Today, blocky, massive cars such as the Dodge Magnum resemble nothing so much as whittled bars of soap. And it's ridiculous to drive vehicles as large as Sherman tanks just to go to the five-and-dime.

You may not agree with my opinions on what looks good and what doesn't. And that's okay. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. But the upshot is, when style gets in the way of function, look out. The result won't be pretty.

Mike Hudspeth, ISDA, is an industrial designer with more than two decades of experience. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Mike at [email protected].

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