The future of auto design has some curves

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published January 26, 2015


The North American International Auto Show is all about the visuals: the screens, the exhibits and, of course, the design of the vehicles themselves.

During the auto show, which was open to the public Jan. 17-25, the College for Creative Studies in Detroit maintained an exhibit presence while displaying some models of aerodynamic vehicles that its students made.

On a Jan. 12 press preview day, Paul Snyder, CCS chair of transportation design, was on hand to answer questions and make observations about the future of auto design.

“In terms of strictly surfacing and form and shape trends, I would have to say from my brief walk around today that there is kind of a convergence and a homogenization happening amongst a lot of the brands, definitely in a good direction,” he said.

“But there is a lot of, maybe, too much similarity between one brand to the next.”

Snyder said he was excited to see the vehicles’ “sensual surfacing” and said customers respond to that sculptural form. But he said he’d love to see even more exploration, adding that designers’ understanding of aerodynamics has evolved as they continue to spend time in the wind tunnel. And this is affecting how they design their products, Snyder said.

While he said vehicles from the 1980s popularized a generic jellybean shape, auto designers have since branched out to exploring other options. He explained that a recent trend has been squaring off the vehicle’s front corners, citing one example as being the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered vehicle.

“There are some things, certainly, that are driven by aero — for example, the front corners,” he said.

“Back when I first started in the industry, we used to think that cars slipped through the air. … What we’ve learned is that a car can actually punch through the air, like punch a hole, a pocket, and then the slipstream sort of follows through that.”

According to the College for Creative Studies’ website, LinkedIn has rated CCS the No. 3 design school in the country and the best of that type in the Midwest based on alumni success.

CCS president Rick Rogers said the school’s location is an “immeasurable advantage” because Detroit is still the global auto industry’s intellectual capital.

“Moreover, Detroit is all about car culture, and CCS students get immersed in an environment that celebrates the automobile and constantly moves automotive innovation forward,” he said in an emailed statement. “It’s the ideal place to study transportation design.”

Learn more about the North American International Auto Show by visiting Contact the College for Creative Studies, 201 E. Kirby, in Detroit by visiting or by calling (313) 664-7400.