Car Design Research Insight – Quarter Two 2012

Once again we are delighted to share Car Design Research’s Insight trend review now in the second quarter of this year.  Two main trends highlight Patterns and Graphics and Old Made New.  The first sees premium manufacturers spending decades developing design signatures – be they form or surface treatments, graphical shapes or details – and now sees a new type of signature emerge based on distinct colour ways and pattern applications such as in the BMW i8, Citroen DS Numero 9, and Mercedes Style Coupe.  The second looks at how wood, leather and chrome, staple materials of many premium interiors, make way for new material palettes and traditional materials being used in entirely new and more modern ways - re-imagining material use in the modern interior such as in the Pininfarina Cambiano, Bentley EXP 9F, and Peugeot HX1.  Also we love CDR’s ‘stuff that caught our eye’ such as Nike’s shoe sculpture, subverting surveillance in the connected city, the end (and start) of a space era and Toyota hybridising Beijing’s metro – get stuck in with more below!

Pattern and colour graphics: the new way of expressing your brand

Marlboro cigarettes and Coca-Cola’s lighter/flavoured varieties communicating products that belong to the ‘mother’ brand, but have different qualities.  As car brands develop sub-lines based on new powertrains or a push upmarket, we’re seeing this in the automotive space too.  In general, designers are using colours, textures and pattern applications in new ways to create greater brand distinction.

The BMW i range lifts the blue from the company’s colours and utilises it as a colour way across the new range of electric and hybrid powered cars. Blue is becoming synonymous in the car world with cleaner, lighter technologies – the relationship created is like Diet Coke to Coke, ‘i’ is BMW-lite. 

Citroen’s ‘DS’ brand has made great use of texture and pattern.  The diamond logo was applied as a sticker on the DS Numero 9’s roof, grille texture, and even accessory ranges.  It’s the automotive equivalent of Louis Vuitton’s ‘LV’ pattern, seen on handbags across the world. 

Mercedes is owning the pixelated texture trend; on the recent Style Coupe it extends beyond grille onto the door cards and seats.  Its application on the production A-class is a good example of a pattern being used to demarcate an - in this case - sporting variant. 

Less of a brand signifier, the Q3 RS Concept Audi showed in Beijing demonstrated interesting colour and texture use. A blue hue was only visible in the carbon weave when you got up close, juxtaposing with the matt blue paint - a further example of the latest technology allowing subtle design experimentation.

Old made new: traditional materials re-imagined in the modern interior

Since the dawn of the automotive age, the use of woods and leathers in car interiors has been a constant. But up until recently, the fundamental appearance of leather trims and wood veneers had changed little.  The latest concept and production cars are reinterpreting traditional materials; applying them to the interior in an entirely different - and much more fashionable – way.

Pininfarina’s Cambiano concept features wooden floor and lower door elements made from reclaimed timber piles that in a previous life kept the buildings of Venice out of the lagoon. The knots, markings and ‘ravished’ qualities give the wood a worn, natural and bespoke look. 

Bentley’s EXP 9F interior features the traditional Bentley air vents’, but with a ‘rifled gunmetal’ inner section. An aesthetic derived from outdoor luxury activities, it’s befitting of the brand’s potential move into the SUV segment. 

Kia’s GT finds inspiration in ‘Vintage’ furniture and clothing. The door armrests feature a PVC-coated leather, whose base colour is a gold/copper. As arms rest on the door over time it’s intended that the top-coat wears away, gradually revealing more of the gold colour underneath and evoking the vintage look.

The back seat passengers in Peugeot’s HX1 not only get more room but an espresso machine between the seats. A handcrafted piece of marble is used as the surround - chosen because it heats and cools as the machine (and coffee) does, but not to the same freezing-or-scalding extremes as a metal would.

Have you noticed? Stuff that caught our eye this month

Nike’s store in Beijing has a reputation for exciting window displays. The sculpture of rotating shoes on display during the time of the recent Beijing Show was no exception – we noted it capturing the attention of a certain Christopher E. Bangle.

Not an underwear advert, instead this is the ‘sentient city survival kit’ - letting you flirt with the modern notion of surveillance in the metropolis. The under(a)ware pictured is designed to alert the wearer to when RFID tag skimming is taking place, by discreetly vibrating! Developed by Mark Shepard of New York’s Eyebeam Arts and Technology Center, it’s designed to remind the user cities are watching us and don’t always have our best interests at heart...

Days after the retired space shuttles were ferried to new static display homes, generating amazing images such as the one above, Tesla’s Elon Musk celebrated the next era of Space travel, with the successful launch of the Space X rocket’s first mission.

Toyota’s advertising for hybrids on Beijing’s metro features wraps of trains and escalators handles and plays on the Chinese love of cartoons.

Car Design Research is the UK providing design research services for design, product planning and marketing groups of car companies and related creative practices.  For more information email  See more of CDR at

Recent projects include:

- Concept definitions for multi-car vehicle platform

- Scenario building around future electric car customers

- Design strategies for a new performance sub-brand

- Design assessment of a brand’s new exterior form language

- Curating a car’s design one-to-one for VIP customers

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