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Automotive designerism

Apparently, Land Rover is to make a new Defender. (Hang on. Does anyone actually call it the "Defender"? Everyone I know just calls it a "Land Rover".) Anyway, the thinking is that the existing model (which dates back to the 1940s!) is just too old-fashioned and basic. Especially when put next to the company's new Range Rover Evoque.

Now in one sense these are very similar vehicles. They're about the same size and a similar shape. But in another sense, they are very different. The Defender is for Welsh hill farmers to lug their collies across muddy banks in Snowdonia. The Evoque is clearly aimed at people who live in cities and who probably wear those spectacles with the name of a clothes designer printed on the frames. People who write blog posts on iPads. * I mean, you can even buy a 2WD version.

Who in their right mind would buy a two wheel drive Range Rover? All the disadvantages of a 4WD (principally the poor handling from soft suspension and a high centre of gravity, but also the poor fuel consumption from excess weight) without the usual advantage of increased traction in poor conditions. Now don't get me wrong - I've seen an Evoque and it's a good-looking car, especially on the inside. If I was in the market for a 4WD that was a proper off-roader and was properly plush on the inside, but I didn't want anything as big as a full Range Rover, then I'd certainly think about an Evoque. (Obviously I wouldn't have the 2WD version.)


It seems to me that Land Rover has a vision of the Evoque as a 'designer' object. I think they have entirely the wrong idea about what 'design' should be about.

Design shouldn't be about producing something (and here I'm thinking especially about the 2WD Evoque) in mockery of something practical. Design should be about producing the practical original. So in my view, the original Defender was a design classic. It did what it was designed for so well that farmers still buy the things (if they don't keep a decades-old one running). Up until quite recently, Land Rover could claim that more than half of all Defenders were still running.

I'll give you another example of a car which I think is a good example of design, but which I doubt trendy types would ever think of as 'designer'. Skordh and janesomebody have a big Honda six-seater thing which seats three people abreast rather than having the seating in three rows like most MPVs. Now kudos to the designer who thought that families with young children might not find it too convenient to have the seats in three rows.

Another example is the car in my userpic. That's a Subaru Impreza Prodrive in 'sport wagon' configuration. And it used to be mine and bunn's before she got her Saab. Some designer set out to produce a car that could comfortably carry a greyhound while doing 0-60 in 5.2 seconds. (Well ok, not a greyhound specifically, but you get the idea.) By producing something that serves that niche so well, the designer has in my opinion done a good job, even though the car is (and let's be honest here) hideous.

Purpose should lead to design. When it does, and the design is good, you get long-lasting design classics like the Land Rover Defender. When fashion leads to design, you get products that a) will date and b) probably won't be as good at what they should be designed to do. If your current Land Rover Defender breaks down in Botswana, there's a good chance that any random bush mechanic with a set of spanners will be able to fix it. That's the sort of thing that the original designers had in mind. I wonder if the 'designers' of the new Defender will think about that.

* Err...yes. I bought an iPad and am using it for this post. This may or may not be relevant. However, I don't wear spectacles. And I don't drive a Range Rover Evoque. Or for that matter a Land Rover.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
That reminds me. I saw an advertisement the other day showing a pair of teenagers gazing in rapt attention at the screen of a mobile phone which one of them was holding. The caption was, as far as I can remember: "Your mobile phone says a lot about you. It's a fashion accessory. That's why we like to browse the latest models at [such a place]."

And I thought "huh? What world does this advertisement represent?"

A mobile phone is not a fashion accessory, and anyone who thinks it is probably needs their head examined. I'm sure even the most air-headed, fashion-victim teenager buys their mobile phone on the basis of the features it has, not on the basis of whatever happens to be fashionable. If you're a teenager and you want to be able to get Facebook on your phone, you won't settle for one that doesn't access the Internet just because it looks like the one your favourite pop star has got. (OK, possibly a bad example because the majority of phones these days probably do access the Internet, but you get the general point.)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 31st, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Great Scott. :-O It's a small plastic box with clever bits of technology inside.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 1st, 2011 08:20 am (UTC)
I'm not convinced that seeing mobile phones as fashion accessories is just teenagers. After all, teenagers for the most part won't be able to afford the latest, most sought after ones which tend to be contract-only, without parental assistance.

I think mobile-phones-as-fashion-items is more of a concept for twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. People with rather more disposable income.

Sep. 1st, 2011 08:22 am (UTC)
In this market though, you can make a good argument that fashionable = better. The fashionable operating systems will probably get more apps written for them. Even though I guess there are more blackberries in the world than iPhones, there are nowhere near as many apps for the blackberry.
Sep. 1st, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)

When I was choosing a new phone, I looked at a range of smartphones, including the Blackberry and the iPhone. I rejected the iPhone because it was too expensive; yes, it has the capacity for some very cool apps (one of my sisters and her husband both have iPhones, and they've got an interesting selection - I think my favourite is the one that superimposes a star map on the bit of sky you're looking at, so you can tell what is what), but to be blunt the apps are not - to me at least - worth the extra money I would have had to fork out on an iPhone.

I rejected the Blackberry because, although it seemed like a good phone, it was too heavy (the difference is very noticeable when your wrists aren't all they might be), and the battery life was nothing to write home about. The keyboard is nice, though. If it hadn't been for the wrist problem, that might just have sold it to me, weak batteries or no weak batteries.

So I ended up with my little Samsung. It's a basic smartphone (there appears to be only one useful app in existence for it, and that's a Tube map - not really pulling up any trees there), but it is light, it didn't cost an arm and a leg, the battery life is what you'd expect from a Samsung (ie brilliant), and it does all the things I really need it to do. Anything more would be expensive window-dressing.

It's all about willingness to pay.

[Edited for typo.]

Edited at 2011-09-01 09:40 am (UTC)
Sep. 1st, 2011 10:13 am (UTC)
That only works if you think more apps = better

In this market, I am pretty sure there will be groups who believe:

- more robust = better
- smaller = better
- longer battery life = better
- cheaper = better
- less complex = better
- physical keyboard = better
- more effective reception in low signal areas = better

There are even refuseniks who believe that more fashionable = worse.

I think it's unlikely that there will ever be a consensus on the definition of 'better' for a device of this kind. In fact, I suspect that there are few items where there is a true consensus on the definition of better, and probably most of those are either very niche, or have only one function.
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
So's a watch... :-)
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
Well, that's true. When it's not made of metal, as mine is. :-)

I actually have a pocket watch on a chain, but that is for severely practical reasons, believe it or not. I can't wear a wristwatch as I have to wear surgical splints on my wrists.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )