The Emotive Power of Car Design

Volvo Concept Coupé

Volvo Concept Coupé

A new study from Volvo shows that good car design can make us feel emotions similar to what we feel when looking at a picture of a crying or happy baby, or an attractive member of the opposite sex. Caroline Kidd looks at the emotional side of car design.

“Cars are not a suit of clothes; cars are an avatar. Cars are an expansion of yourself: they take your thoughts, your ideas, your emotions, and they multiply it,” said former chief of design at BMW, Chris Bangle, in a 2007 TED Talk on car design as an overlooked art form. In this talk, he argues that viewing cars as art is when the car connects with our emotional side, and he speaks about the quest to design a car with “soul”.

Bangle is right of course. Good car design is art. We know when we have seen a car with that abstract notion of “soul”. Countless beauties have graced motor shows and showrooms over the years making the world take a collective gasp, admiring the way the light bounces off the sculpted body. The car may have a revolutionary new engine pumping out hundreds of bhp but we can’t see that. It’s the design that hits us first.

Carmakers know this too. They have museums displaying their cars, each one polished and presented like a piece of fine art. At the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, over 160 cars from the brand’s 127 year history are displayed in 178,000 square feet of exhibition space over nine floors. Citroen has recently opened DS World Paris, an exhibition of DS heritage, with DS models on display in the same way you might find paintings and sculpture displayed just down the road in the Louvre.

“Emotion” is the word du jour when it comes to car design. Volvo, long the purveyors of solid if somewhat boxy cars, recently unveiled the Volvo Concept Coupé which they say is an example of their new design strategy aimed at building “a more emotive connection with the brand”. When speaking about his design brief at Lada, designer Steve Mattin said that he wanted to “emotionalise the brand”.

Now new research backs up the fact that a good car design can appeal to our emotional side.

In the first experiment of its kind, Volvo has studied how the brain reacts emotionally to car design and how design aesthetics actually make us feel. Participants in the study were asked to rate how they felt about a series of images while their brain activity was monitored. They were shown images of the new Volvo Concept Coupé alongside perceived bad and outdated car design, images of happy and crying babies and men and women considered to be beautiful.

The results showed that humans react emotionally to the shape of a car, feeling more positive and empowered when looking at beautiful car design.

Speaking on the study findings, Dr David Lewis, a UK leader in the neuroscience of consumerism and communications said, “Appreciating an aesthetically pleasing design is an experience which combines understanding and emotions. These are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to distinguish between them. Aesthetic experience involves a unity of sensuous delight, meaningful interpretation, and emotional involvement.”

In the Volvo study, there were some differences between how male and female participants responded to the images with men experiencing more emotion while looking at images of beautiful car design than they did whilst looking at an image of a crying child! 74% of men claimed that good design made them feel positive and 60% of men claimed that driving a beautiful car makes them feel confident and empowered. Only 33% of women rated images of car design higher than an image of an attractive man.

The results of the experiment are not ground-breaking but it puts a scientific spin on what most car lovers already know in that place where all our emotions hang out – the heart and soul!

It may go somewhere to explain why a car buyer faced with two choices, Car A and Car B, where Car A is the sensible choice scoring top marks for price, reliability and fuel economy; but the buyer can’t walk away from Car B because it just looks so good. You might call this situation letting the heart rule the head. But really it’s just an example of the emotive power of good car design.

Caroline Kidd

2nd January, 2014


Author: wheelsforwomen

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