Spannerhead Dot

Styling Faux Pas:
Overly Anthropomorphic Design

July 13, 2011 by Matt

Mazda RX-8

Let’s talk about this. It’s clearly an aesthetic disease that afflicts multiple automakers’ design departments. Some of the best and brightest in our constellation of marques have been seduced by the urge, on occasion, to anthropomophize the front end of their cars. In other words, to design the elements on the front of a car in such a way that it bears an unmistakable resemblance to the anatomy of a human face:

Chrysler Sebring

Some will say, “All cars have a pair of headlights and an emblem in the middle; why aren’t you saying that all cars have ‘eyes’ and a ‘nose’?” I take their point; ultimately, there is something undeniably humanizing about the presence, in particular, of two headlights. We’re all drawn to human-looking “eyes,” in whatever form they appear. In fact, the case could even be made that that’s part of the reason why humans and cars have bonded in such significant ways. We feel a connection to our cars in part because they have certain styling elements that remind us of ourselves, and it helps give them a “personality” we relate to and feel affection for. A negative example of this would be the infamous Tucker sedan of the late ’40s, which broke with tradition and added a third headlight to the center of the fascia:

48 Tucker Sedan

Granted, there were other reasons the Tucker flopped besides the off-putting, “un-human” look of the car’s front. But I do believe the addition of that third “eye” contributed to its icy reception, in that it made the car look more alienating, and less human.

Ferrari 612

So, we’ve established that designing cars that look at least a little human in their features is an accepted—even desirable—practice. That said, certain automakers definitely go overboard. The most egregious offender of late has been, I’m sad to say as a fan of the brand, Mazda. They’ve pulled out all the stops and adopted smiling faces as a design feature across their model range. The most prominent example is probably the Mazda 3:

Mazda 3

I mean, the car is just cartoonishly happy. If I owned one, what if, say, I wasn’t in a happy mood that day? I can’t think of many things more annoying that driving around in a “happy” car when my emotions don’t reflect my car’s “emotional state.” If you’re going to make my car’s face have nearly literal eyes, nose and a mouth, fine, but for heaven’s sake, make it expressionless.

C6 Corvette

Here’s hoping this blight on the automotive design landscape passes quickly, and cars look more like cars again, and less like us.

Filed under: Aesthetics, Styling Faux Pas


  1. David says:

    I too have made the same observation about the Mazda 3. I dislike its looks specifically because it has a big stupid grin. I think this approach as been used effectively on the recent muscle car remakes like the Dodge Charger. It looks aggressive which is works for it (especially when used as a police car).

    • Matt says:

      Totally agree about the Charger’s intimidating fascia. One pulls up behind you with its lights on, and you know it means business. :)

  2. John D says:

    But Matt, I thought you WERE happy all the time… ;)

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