Auto Design Review: Home of the Style Quadrant™

This is not an auto review or a news site. Auto Design Review is focused on analyzing the history of automotive design, model by model. In every new article, we will look at a family of vehicles (e.g. Chevrolet Corvette or VW Passat) and talk about the evolution of its design over its generations. The idea is to tell a story that is particular to each model within the context of the market at the time of their launch.

We summarize that history with the Style Quadrant. This concept quantifies two dimensions of design: innovation and heritage.

Innovation is a reflection of how the design elements and philosophy of each model fit and impact that market at that time. Auto makers can take an approach that can range from derivative to fresh. Derivative designs tend to replicate market trends, while fresh designs set new trends in the market.

Heritage is about how an auto maker fit the design within its own history, its own DNA. In some cases the manufacturer may stay within the general limits of their historical design philosophy, adopting a language and design cues that bring continuity to their heritage. However, there are times when designers break from tradition; they may do so to revitalize sales or to send a profound message of transformation to the market. The dimension of heritage can range from traditional to disruptive.

Based on these two dimensions, a design can fall under one of four quadrants:

When a design is derivative (relative to the market) and traditional (relative to the brand heritage), it sits in the Stale quadrant. In simple terms, there’s not much going on there – there’s no appetite to be unique in the market or to break from tradition.

On the opposite end of both dimensions, when a design is fresh in the market and it is disruptive for the brand, it sits in the Risky quadrant. There’s risk because the market may not accept a fresh design language and the existing customer base (loyal brand customers) may be turned off by a design that breaks from the company DNA.

A design that is fresh in the market but sticks to traditional company DNA serves to strengthen the position of that brand in the market. In other words, is shows the world that the brand has a lot to offer to the market and it is unique. On the other hand, a design that is derivative (in other words, it follows market trends) and also breaks from company tradition (disruptive) negates the brand heritage and fails to differentiate itself from other market players. It is ultimately Dilutive to the brand.

As we review models, we will keep track of their position in the Style Quadrant, document the history of their design evolution through time.

We hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as we enjoy writing them.