Mid-semester research

Up until this point, my research has been focused around how the physical form of the car is informed by the cultures, traditions and people surrounding it.

While companies such as GM merely design most of their vehicles to fill market niches or increase revenue, through my research I have come to understand that in design studio scenarios like that of Mazda, Honda and Nissan- the vehicle becomes a platform for expression and representation of deeply ingrained cultural traditions.

The Japanese aesthetic style is particularly significant and has formed a large part of my investigation.

These aesthetic traditions go beyond merely a few simple guidelines by which to live ones life- rather they speak of a set of ideals that have existed for centuries but have only been exposed to the western world for a little over 200 years.

These ideals, and others, underpin much of Japanese cultural and aesthetic norms on what is considered tasteful or beautiful.

I will give a brief rundown on the four main aesthetic principles and their importance in the context of design.


In this principle, beauty is not defined by it’s lavishness, exquisiteness or flamboyance- rather something beatiful can also be very mundane and simple. This ideal can be applied to all living and innanimate things in that it speaks of the transience of things- nothing is permanent and this is reflected in a Japanese person’s preference for a flower that is in bud or in decay as opposed to something that is in full bloom.

This Fiat concept car design understands that bumpers will get scratched and worn, and thus it does not have any. Instead, it has four layers of paint, meaning that the user should embrace the fact that the car will eventually get scratched and ‘decay’.

The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi accepts the transience and embraces the beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic realises that time will pass and materials will wear- and designs for it.

2. Yugen:

In the context of design, Yugen refers to objects that are imbedded with a refined elegance- though this is not to suggest that such objects are only for the upper classes. Instead, it means that to have an understanding of Yugen, you have to ‘work’ for it. It means that one must look beyond the physical form of an object in order to find its true meaning.

Much like an experimental Jazz song on ABC classics FM, Yugen objects suggest and not reveal layers of hidden meaning within. Much of the meaning is invisible to the casual eye and avoids the obvious.


“My ideal of design is of something powerful that cannot be seen, but only felt .” – Naoto Fukasawa


Iki, when viewed in the context of design, has many interpretations. It is an aesthetic principle that has existed for so long that Japanese people no longer go out of their way to acknowledge it’s presence in other people or things- rather they assume it is already there. It has become so engrained in the culture that for it not to be there would be a culture shock to a Japanese person in some respects.

An Iki thing/situation would be simple, improvised, straight, restrained, temporary, romantic, ephemeral, original, refined, inconspicuous, etc.

The Honda Kawami concept of 2003 typifies the Iki aesthetic: refined, original and simple.


This is an interesting principle in that it does not specifically speak of a visual aesthetic- but rather a way of working and a way of treating everyday actions as an art form. Every art form- from painting, sculpture, dance, tea ceremonies to Kabuki- all of these not only have an end result but they also have a process/method in which they are created. Geido is a celebration of the discipline involved in the process of the artform- and this can also be thought of in an Industrial Design sense too.

95% of a project IS the process, and yet we seem to discount it’s importance in view of the final result. For a car designer, you are judged on the final product, but what if we could reach a point in which the process involved in designing the vehicle becomes just as important as the end result. This is what Geido is about.

I have really only skimmed the surface on this topic, but i hope you will appreciate the notion that Japanese aesthetics have influenced me greatly over the years. The objects that are informed by these principles are incredibly sublime and rich in semantics- an effect that I can only hope to achieve when it comes time to design my vehicle. For so long I have pondered why Japanese cars look different to every other countries’ cars- and it was only through writing this short enquiry that i was able to gain an understanding of why cars like the 1970 Nissan KPGC110 Skyline and the Toyota 2000gt stand out. Both of these cars are almost poetic in their nature- they are timeless creations void of any outward influences that may alter their form. Instead, the designers worked to enrich these cars with their own meaning and power to influence through the use of the aesthetic principles, thus giving the vehicle a story, a heritage and an identity all of its own.

I also conducted a photographic study of my movements in a normal day of commuting to and from uni. Luckily, I am in an area that is within walking distance of all 3 types of public transport so there was no purpose to this exercise other than to prove the point that a car is only as efficient as the environment in which it is used. The more we continue to develop the vast urban sprawls of Melbourne, the more important the car will be in terms of meeting the needs of the natural environment, the community and the individual.


I have also taken it upon myself to conduct a survey of 50 people about their car use habits. Suprisingly, people were very keen to participate and I was overwhelmed by the interest people showed in my project. In the case of this survey, i was really just testing the waters. I have never done a survey before and as a result, I feel that some of the questions needed to be reworded and/or reordered. Still, it is a great comfort to know that people are willing to participate in my investigation.


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