Design Makes a Social Statement

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(All Photos: Michael Bitsoff)

Far from merely exuding a throwback from decades of the past, automobiles and architectural building design arguably mirrors what is in vogue socially at any given moment. Long before many of us were even thought about, auto designers focused on what was “longer, sleeker and wider”. However, there was always a “tip of the hat” to the “Space Race”, with some car options even touting “Space Age” control options.

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This is particularly true of dashboards to windshield designs implying a “futuristic” feel for those desiring the most modern image. Over time, this ‘more over less’ approach evolved to ‘less is more’ in the obvious options that were visually less noticeable, to technologically demure.

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The computer age has certainly played a role with the advent of CAD (computer automated design) largely replacing large rooms of full size clay models designers subjected to wind tunnel testing for aerodynamic efficiency. As a result, a more homogenized look has prevailed with recessed door handles, safer glass and collision energy-absorbing technology and chrome adornments that are more functional than aesthetic.

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Gone are the “Space Age” tail light bezels resembling rockets, or “Wonderbar” dashboard radio buttons searching for the strongest signal. Recessed and container-type safety features may be the rage for almost every automobile manufacturer, but few will deny that the creative verve of automobile bodies with flair was once associated with specific brands is gone. To this point, it’s becoming more difficult to differentiate a BMW from a KIA at a distance.

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Just the same, fashion commercials will occasionally use older, classic auto designs to accentuate a product, implying that certain designs are “timeless”. The overall concern with automotive safety has outpaced style and to be certain, brands remain relevant. Ask any valet who has parked a Hyundai versus a Cadillac and you’re likely to hear a preference towards the more fashionable,  if not higher-quality product.

Take note of cars driven in old movies by Humphrey Bogart, and invariably the styles of those vehicles brings about a smile, an acknowledgement of a design for the era. This is perhaps no less true in 2016.

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