Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Where have we come with complexity. Everyone wants a massage?

This morning, I had a thunderous conversations with one of LM's designers, who was having a difficult time with a new epiphany that he had recently had.... to paraphrase.....

"In the time of Harley Earl [famous GM designer of the 50's], every designer and engineer was part of invention and new discovery. Transportation icons and fashions were developed at the rapid rate. Engineers and Designers saw the whole scope of their professions working on each part of the car. After all Earl's daily driver was a Buick Y-Job - the industry's first-ever concept car. Today, fashion in mass production car design rarely changes and we [designers] have become tradition bound to wear the black clothes and the orange shoes and to carry an ipod. Do we really design like Harley Earl, or do we simply respond to 5 decades of referential imagery. Are we just boiling the ocean?

(Buick Y-Job Wikipedia)

Similarly in France, after the WWII, people were able to start a business to pull themselves up out of war-induced poverty by simply hanging out a shingle and inventing a product. Today in France, those same people, who would have started their own business, would hardly waste the time because the bureaucracy to start a new business is too daunting....the paper work is far too burdensome."

I know that some might call this heresy, but I call it brutal honesty. And the United States is equally burdened with the same plague.

Cars have become dominated by extras that we don't need in the name of innovation, and design - true form and function personified - has been largely sacrificed in the face of these "advancements". The very notion from this video above that such a Lexus is the new standard to which all cars must respond is an affront to any design sensibilities.

Today, I drive a design icon which is 37 years old and it still works and looks beautiful. Call me heretical, but this Lexus is a nightmare of potential warranty claims. Just imagine it in 37 years. If the remotes for the massager are still to be found in the rear arm rest, guaranteed the buttons will long be worn out and Lexus won't even make the switches anymore. So you will be left with a hunk of steel called the 2009 LS 460 with immovable backseats, and no one will be lighting a candle for its iconic design curves.

Where have we come with complexity?

My simple plea is that as we persist with this Sisyphean task to wash dishes in the rear seat of a sedan, that we remember that a car can be more than the list of its functions. It can aspire to greatness in its presentation. It can take your breath away. What's more: it can carry you in timeless style, reliably for decades if treated with a modicum of care.

Local Motors has set about with determination to answer this plea.


Ari said...

In theory I found the following article interesting and relevant to this post: http://www.autoblog.com/2009/01/13/not-in-detroit-cadillac-world-thorium-fuel-concept/

But, this article does not describe HOW the vehicles will last longer. Will Local Motors set a benchmarked goal for product longevity?

J. Clark said...

You've sort of touched on a larger/tangential issue. At the risk of starting an argument (fun!), I suspect some of the many reasons people get into car design don't even apply to the final product. In short: if you want to design cars its likely because you enjoy the line, the feel of the wheel, the engineering and budgetary challenges. If you want to design things like this Lexus, one might as well go into office or home design.

I'm not advocating we all go back to small windscreens, goggles and leather caps to drive around in, but at some point driving has to go back to being an enjoyable thing to do in itself, or we'll continue down this path of creature comforts (eg designing for passengers and not drivers), all the while sending the truly imaginative designers off to other industries.

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