Let’s talk about over-design

What makes a car stand out at the first sight? Probably the exterior look, then the interior design, both of which are all about visual impressions. To attract more eyes and ultimately more buyers, automakers spare no effort in sketching exciting lines and shapes. Some athletic race-track feels? Or some delicate luxury gloss? No problem at all. Just pick your favorite options and packages at the dealer, and the factory workers will make you an attractive combination.

However, the customer might find something unusual when contemplating his or her unique vehicle. The intake vent, the rear diffuser, and the sleek-shaped exhaust pipe(s) turn out to be nothing but plastic decorations with no actual function at all. This is the story of some “sport packages”, and these items are perfect examples of over-design — something engineered against its original.

One cause of this trend is that carmakers want to offer different exterior designs while sharing parts among them. Luxury models nowadays offer more than one exterior package. Take Mercedes-Benz W205 C-Class for example. W205 comes in three exterior packages — Elegance, Avantgarde, and AMG. If we look carefully, the main difference between these packages lies only in bumpers. That is, car makers just put on different bumpers at the last stages of the manufacturing process. Since truly functioning vents and pipes require a comprehensive design of the whole bodywork, it seems to be cost-efficient to just put on some non-penetrating plastic chips.

As a result, a sporty look can be put on all kinds of cars. Even the Mercedes-Benz V-Class van has an AMG Line. Does a sport look to make a van sporty? Do we need a Mercedes-AMG V63s someday?

Some Japanese brands have adopted the “floating roof” design recently. This is not new, but the Japanese make it horrible. Traditionally, a proper floating roof consists of large window glasses surrounding the whole car and thin pillars with high-gloss black paint. The glasses, pillars, and windshields form a continuous mirror-like surface that makes the roof look as if it were floating above. MINI Cooper and Range Rover are prominent examples of the proper floating roof. In contrast, an improper floating roof is achieved by merely connecting the side window and back windshield with thin black plastics. SUZUKI Swift and NISSAN Maxima are some stupid examples. This kind of cheap design is unnecessary and disgusting.

The recently revealed Toyota Supra is another tragedy of over-design. While former concept cars showed some exciting design, the realization of a long-anticipated “super Toyota” disappoints me, at least. Due to the platform sharing with BMW G29 Z4, the size of the new Toyota Supra is limited. The new Supra is significantly smaller than its predecessor, which was released almost 20 years ago. This is somehow uncommon under the “obesity trend” within the auto industry. As a result, the exaggerated muscular sideline on Toyota FT-HS and FT-1 concept is downgraded to the plastic decoration on the door. Also, the F1 front design loses proportion due to the width limit. It seemed that Toyota was lazy to develop a new exterior after deciding to use the Z4 platform. Consequently, an over-designed Z4 Coupe was born.

Over-design continues in the interior. The most notorious one is the fake trim. While ultra-luxury brands like Rolls Royce or hyper-sport cars like Ferrari will use real wood and real carbon fiber to add to the accent of the cabin, most car makers use fake materials instead. The carbon fiber is replaced with "plastic with carbon fiber patterns“; the wood is replaced with “plastic with printed wood pattern”: the “high-gloss piano wood trim” is just black glossy plastic. People often hate the common matte plastic buttons and prefer high-gloss piano wood or silver metal, but the problem with those fancy plastics is that they can easily get scratched. Most importantly, they are still plastics.

The abuse of touch screens is another issue. While touch screens bring a high-tech feel and simplicity, they are harder to use upon driving. Without the physical feelings, one at least needs to glimpse the screen to locate the virtual buttons. Also, the light of the screen could be harmful to the eyes at night. Physical buttons could be annoying if not well-designed, but that does not mean a full-touch-screen cabin design is perfect.

I love the interior design of the BMW G30 5-Series the best. The G30 5-Series interior carries the simplicity and practicality of the F-generation and is even more refined. It features multiple controlling methods — either physical buttons, touch screen, i-Drive controller, or gesture control. While touch screens are fancier and simpler, physical shortcut buttons are way easier when driving. However, many criticize its bluntness and lack of visual innovation. That probably forced BMW to go wild on later G-generation models such as the G20 3-Series and G05 X5.

For budget-car brands, over-design is somehow acceptable because it makes the product more distinctive while maintaining a low price. But for luxury brands, selling something fake is intolerable. Will the automakers, especially luxury brands, stop the over-design of cars? Probably not. After all, the market says everything, and irrationality is always there to force some weird phenomenon.

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