Facing your Car

Do cars have a face? You would be inclined to say yes immediately. And you would be right as well, because they do. Study has confirmed through a complex statistical analysis that many people see human facial features in the front end of automobiles and ascribe various personality traits to cars — a modern experience driven by our prehistoric psyches.

Designers have realized this for a long time; a lot of thought goes into designing the face of the car. It’s an important element of the design process. As Chris Bangle — former design director of the BWM Group Munich — puts it in the recent documentary Objectified: ‘You, as a person, can have lots of different faces, but with a car, you can only have one face. When you put on that face, it’s there forever. It becomes the cars expression.’

And people are very picky when it comes to choosing a car they will be driving daily for the next couple of years. ‘Cars are kind of like avatars, they’re a representative of ourselves.’, says Bangle, ‘You know, I show myself to the outside world through this car.’

It’s no mere coincidence that the rounded Volkswagen Beetle looks so cute you want to hug it, or that the BMW headlights in your rear mirror are saying ‘Get out of the way or I’ll run you over.’ Cars’ faces tend to show the personality of the car. If it’s a performance car, it should look like that. If it’s a cheap ecological car, it’s appearance should reflect that as well. This is not only the skill of the designer, but also has a strong scientific base. Dennis Slice—an associate professor who was closely involved with the study of Cars’ faces—says: ‘The most unique aspect of the study was that we were able to quantitatively link the perception of cars to aspects of their physical structure in a way that allows us to generate a car that would project, say, aggression, anger or masculinity or the opposite traits.’

Will car customization take extreme forms in the (near) future? Will we end up sending along a picture of ourselves when ordering a car, so that the head- and taillights, as well as the logo and the license plates, can be modeled after our very own face? Why not, we already get to choose most of the cars appearance, so customizing it’s face only seems natural…

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