July 14, 2024

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Automotive design: Professor explains why minimalism is having a renaissance

2 min read

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Automotive designers continue to be enamored with minimalist exterior designs.

In the past few decades, automotive design has transitioned from round to angular. Now, vehicles are increasingly boxy and, in some cases, have soft and curvaceous exterior designs, Raphael Zammit, associate professor and chair of the transportation design graduate program at the College for Creative Studies, told Automotive Dive. 

He cited several recent models — from the Polestar 2 to the Chevrolet Silverado — as examples.


The Polestar 2's minimalistic exterior design.

The Polestar 2 features a minimalist exterior design.

Courtesy of Polestar Automotive


Zammit said that with its “seemingly flat surfaces” and “very sheer, simplified body sides,” Polestar embodies designers’ ongoing fascination with minimalistic product designs pioneered by Apple and others.

“It’s the celebration of the box, a very pure, simplified design aesthetic,” Zammit said.

Automakers, however, are incorporating the trend toward simplicity in bespoke designs that fit their unique design language and history. 

General Motors, for example, usually has more “sculptural” designs featuring many straight lines and few curves, Zammit said. On the other hand, Hyundai is “always quite adventurous” with its more aggressive, angular exterior surfacing.


The 2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N's exterior.

The 2025 Hyundai Ioniq N features an aggressive, angular exterior design.

Courtesy of Hyundai Motor North America


Designers are also simplifying other aspects of exterior design, especially lighting. In recent years, automakers have moved away from “expressive light signature shapes” in favor of simple, geometric shapes like stacked horizontal or vertical lines, Zammit said.

If minimalism seems new and fresh, though, it’s because the trend is largely cyclical. Zammit said that, after a while, when automotive designers have bent sheet metal “into every possible shape,” every design starts to feel like you’ve already seen it.

As a result, he said, the minimalism trend is largely cyclical rather than driven by electrification, production costs or other fundamental issues in the automotive industry.

“We’ve been here before. We’ve done boxy cars before,” Zammit said.

Still, he said minimalist models may sometimes help automakers achieve their larger goals. The Tesla Cybertruck’s minimalist design, for example, could help the automaker lower production costs because it’s simpler to manufacture.


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