Have you ever looked at a new car and spotted something that was just plain wrong?
Aesthetically wrong, that is.
Maybe the door cuts are a fraction off, or the hood line is too high. You ask yourself: How could the designer not see that?
Chances are he did and was pulling his hair out about it. But these days designers' talents are being pitted increasingly against global crash and safety regulations and the desire for aerodynamic efficiency.
The quest to create a beautiful form while meeting the letter of the law is a huge challenge.
"When we start with the design, there is a bit of guessing about what the legal text actually means," says Michael Mauer, head of Porsche Design Studio. "Then the engineers give us the hard points. Sometimes it looks horrible, so we have to start over and try again."
For instance, pedestrian-safety regulations require a certain amount of deformation space between the hood and the engine. That can ruin any idea of a sleek hood line.
"The pedestrian protection challenges are huge," says Clay Dean, Cadillac's design director. "The bull nose, the upright look of the front fascia, the lower kick-point for the bumper are all about pedestrian protection."
Luxury automakers, with more cost flexibility, are engineering "active" hoods. In a pedestrian-vehicle accident, an active hood pops up to cushion the blow to the pedestrian. Under normal driving conditions, there is a sleek hood line.
"But," Mauer says, "the cars in smaller, cheaper segments can't afford these high-tech solutions. They have to compensate in the form of the car, which results in bad design. We're seeing hoods that are 80 millimeters [about 3 inches] too high."
And in the world of car design, where, Mauer says, "we are fighting for millimeters," 3 inches can send a car designer back to the drawing board.
Ian Callum, Jaguar's design director, says: "Pedestrian impact is such a difficult issue to analyze in dynamic terms.
"There is a set box of metrics that you have to observe. You have to create a shape to meet the spirit of the legislation without sacrificing your design aesthetic."