I have never really been into cars.
It is normal to not be interested in cars. Most people are indifferent. Cars are a mode of transportation—that’s it. But, if you’ve been immersed in industrial design education, you’ll find that basically everyone around you is super into cars.
Oh look at the front lights on this car. Look at the curves and lines here. Yeah, not for me.
I’ve put some thought into why I’m the odd one out here. It mostly has to do me finding cars boring. Modern design—American goal-oriented design—really drills down the philosophy that design should serve a purpose or solve a problem. Otherwise, it’s just art or decoration.
And that’s how I look at cars. There is no story or goal. It’s just a shiny object. It’s also depressing, because car companies make cheaper cars ugly on purpose. Imagine that; it’s gross.
But not all cars are boring. I was first introduced to the Nissan Cube while reading Andrew Kim’s spectacular (but defunct) blog. The Nissan Cube actually was designed and there’s a really cool story behind it.
Japan has a specific tax bracket for small cars so people who own these tiny cars pay less in taxes. The Cube was designed to be a family car; it should fit parents and children, be comfortable to sit in, and should somehow fit inside this tiny car tax bracket.
And Nissan successfully pulled it off. They made a tiny car (it’s kinda cute), it fits a family, and it has sofa-style seating. And it fits within the dimensions for the tax bracket.
My most favorite car, however, is the Waymo Firefly. The Firefly is a self-driving car prototype made by Waymo (Google). It was introduced and demoed in 2014, and it’s entirely unconventional.
There’s no steering wheel or the two-row seating. Instead, the interior is just soft-like seating in a half circle. Remember, no one needs to drive this so the legacy car interior can be 100% redesigned.
But, the most interesting part lies on the outside.
New technology can be intimidating and scary. New technology that involves the safety of you and your family is even more scary. People don’t trust self-driving cars. What if an algorithm or a bug kills your daughter?
The Firefly was designed to make self-driving cars pleasant and friendly. It has a face. It’s very cute. Everything is round, and you just want to hug it.
If you look at other cars like the Tesla, they look very science fiction. They’re space lasers and sharp lines. That’s cool, that will attract money from nerds, but maybe something that looks like a prop from Age of Ultron shouldn’t be the face of AI and self-driving cars.
I can’t gush enough about the Firefly. It takes a lot of courage to make something entirely new and I’m sure there are lots of people who scoffed at the design. One of my friends who loves car design hates the Firefly. He thinks it looks ridiculous. He even sees a Hitler mustache.
Sure, your opinion is as valid as mine, but the Firefly has the best design rationale. It has a story and it has a purpose. It’s not just a sexy shell designed to excite rich old men.
But sadly, like most stories, this one ends in tragedy. The Firefly was retired a few years after it was shown off. Google decided that they shouldn’t make their own cars. They should just partner with car makers and sell self-driving car tech instead. It makes sense business-wise, but it’s a tragedy for well-designed cars nonetheless.
So what’s next? I wait for the next actually designed car. It won’t be long, I hope.