As the car is the most complex product of everyday use and its users have strong emotions related to the car own or want to own, car design is getting more and more important. At the beginning of the 20th century the functionality of the car was the focus of both car producers and customers, and aesthetic were regarded as optional and rather unimportant. Nowadays, people are constantly discussing aesthetics and design. Customers are more and more buying cars by simply selecting the design that suits them, with less focus on the technical specifications of the car. Therefore, if car producers want to sell their new products they must at least integrate functionality and aesthetics, if not place a greater focus on the design of the car, while respecting all the safety standards set by regulators. In this blog I will present a car that failed to integrate functionality and aesthetics as described above and is therefore often considered as one of the ugliest cars ever produced even though it seems to be very practical. Subsequently, I will present another car in the same price range, that targets the same customer segment, which, in my opinion, managed to integrate functionality and aesthetics very well. For both cars I will analyse the designers view and inspiration for the car, the exterior and interion design.
Some love it, some hate it, and some laugh at it. The designer Robert Giolito explains that Fiat designers did not set out to deliberately create a vehicle that looks “goofy” or crazy. He believes, a design grows organically out of the technology employed in it and the purpose the car should serve. So, in this case functionality won over aesthetics. The imperative for this car was affordability and comfortably. The car was designed to hold six people and their luggage comfortably, all while not being bigger than usual cars. It also had to be flexible enough to accommodate alternative fuel sources and engines, including natural gas.
In regard to the design thinking process I believe the designers applied the same design thinking principles used in innovation management but have jumped to concussions too early. Although they emphasised with the customer and discovered the need for comfortability, space and affordability they should have tested out more different protypes to see whether the chosen design is accepted by the customer.
The Fiat Multipla has the nickname “coffee pot” because of the distinctive separation of the bottom and top halves. While the car is definitely affordable and comfortable, it did not achieve it commercial success due to poor design. First, the overall shape which starts wide at the bottom, narrows at the beltline, then widens again at the top, is considered unclear, incomplete, separated not aerodynamic. Secondly, the positioning of the high beam lights, immediately below the cowling that also houses the windshield wipers, leaves many people confused. In my opinion the lights are redundant as well as the Fiat sign that is placed right below the front window. Furthermore, the wheels also look too small to the overall size of the car. Generally, the car looks as sum of separate parts with out a common vision.
The Multipla’s two rows of three seats each, with the middle seat set back between the outside seats, creates a “living room”, Giolito says. The Multipla is a car built to foster good relationships between its occupants. Admittedly, the living room concept is very practical and most people who bought it make happy reviews about the excess in space and comfort. However, the cockpit of the car looks crowded even though there is so much space left. In addition, the cockpit doesn’t look like one unit but rather an assembly of multiple different parts and buttons that appear above and below each other. Furthermore, the grey plastics of which the control panel an door are built, make the cockpit look cheap and industrial. In my opinion the control board should be simpler without so many buttons and holes in it, and the colours chosen should not be darker.
While it would be easy to present a strong contrast by pointing out cars as Porsche or BMW, it would not be completely comparable since those cars target different customers and are more expensive. Therefore, I have chosen a car that, similarly to Fiat Multipla, offers space, good fuel economy, safety, and convenience features, and requires the same budget.
“Seeing one of our cars should invoke the feelings you get from appreciating a work of art!” According to Hazumi the head designer of Mazda, his team finds inspiration for designing Mazda cars in the elegance of motion in a living creature. The car should be more than a sum of functional parts. The cars should embody the dynamic beauty of life and suggest energy.
Similarly to the Design Thinking process used for innovations (Emphasize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, Implement), Mazda designers had a process in which they tried to place themselves in the driver position, define key customer problems, gain insight of customers’ needs and apply clear and simple design to the ideas they have made. This process had many iterations, where multiple prototypes were built and tested to see if they will really solve the problems identified in previous steps and give the drive a supreme driving feeling.
Mazda considers aesthetics as a crucial the factor that differentiates their car from other cars. The design evokes speed, grace and power, and finally create an irresistible urge to drive. While both Mazda and Fiat target the same customers with a low budget and want a large car for their family needs, the Mazda CX-3 offers all the functionalities a family needs but also adds a modern and appealing design to it. The Mazda CX-3 was designed using a minimalist approach. In comparation to Fiat Multipla the car looks as a one entity, very proportional, without redundant lights or plastic parts on the door. The shape of the car is clear, has a dynamic flow, natural curves and the colour used are very compatible and therefore give the car an agile but also elegant look.
Similarly, to the exterior design, the concept of simplicity and minimalism was also applied to the interior design. The control panel is much simpler than in the Fiat and still offers easily accessible commands. From the curved contours of the instrument panel to the optimally placed hands, screens and screens, it all seems like a continuation of the driver’s body. Instead of using simple materials as plastics, the designers decided to use more elegant materials such as leather, which makes the car look much more comfortable than the Fiat Multipla even though Fiat Multipla has more space to offer.
Finally, even though I still think that Mazda CX-3 has a superior design over Fiat Multipla, we must be aware that such “beauty contests” are very subjective and as already the ancient Romans said “De gustibus non est disputandum” (there’s no accounting for taste) many drivers have different needs that might have been met by Fiat. Even Mr Giolito himself reflected once on his work and said “The shape tends to polarize opinions. You either like it or you don’t. “