Automotive Design Language: Trading Diversity for Brand Identity

If you’ve been out on the road lately, you’ll probably recognize how a select few of the vehicles you see have similarities with one another. There were visual cues to signify that it came from the same brand, whether it be the front end or the similarity in the taillights. This is commonly referred to as design language, where sections of the models in the lineup are designed under a predetermined style and/or have similarities to help people associate the model with its brand better. This is not new to the automotive world, as several manufacturers from the eighties followed this principle, though the rest were keener to put some distinction within their products. It only became much more relevant in recent years, with Mercedes Benz, Mazda, and Mitsubishi as examples.


In a business perspective, this helps in the manufacturing process of both the car and spare parts, as similar shapes help out production and sharing parts within models of the same brand, rather than having to run different divisions and/or create new molds/processes for the lineup. Cost-effectiveness aside, it does help for people to associate cars they see in the streets to the brand, which shapes brand identity through consistency within models. Granted, the listed advantages should be a reasonable business choice, at the sacrifice of originality and creativity.

Consider the following images. These are Mercedes’ saloons in the late eighties. The W140, W124, and the W201, are visibly familiar with one another, as shown by the boxiness in the lights and overalls. This continued with the models in the early 2000s, with the dual oval headlights and triangular taillights. It was only after this era that the models were much more distinguishable. Mercedes has done it in the past and not only does it offer the listed advantages, it was done in a manner that made it look natural. The next era did not manage to do as well, however, as the designs were simplified and tamer.

At the very least, it was acceptable. Mitsubishi’s design language, dubbed the ‘Dynamic Shield’, has since been applied to every model in the lineup. The aggressive, sharp-edged, boxy lines are better fits for the larger models, but were seemingly shoehorned to all for the sake of consistency.

Mazda, despite being somewhat minimalist, has integrated their “Kodo” design quite well into their lineup; perhaps the best of the modern three. The conservative, simplistic lines translate well into the basic outlines of each model.

To dismiss design language as an act of sacrilege is not necessary; older Mercedes models are solid proof that their older models have aged well (in terms of design AND reliability), according to general opinion and their own customer base. Sticking to a preset erase explorations for creativity within designers, but is a much safer bet when introducing new models and is much more sensible as a business. It is reflective of the times; where roads of the past were varied, the present is correspondingly underplayed.

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