Home CitroŽnŽt home

Site search powered by FreeFind
Do NOT include 'Citroen' in your search terms


le Double Chevron issue 74 (1983)

Fashion is that which goes out of fashion
Coco Chanel

It was Buffon who said that “style makes the man”. And still. What is style?

Very generally, it can be said that it is a characteristic and particular mode of expression, that is to say an original one.

For an automobile manufacturer, this is seen in the lines and forms of the cars that he sells to the public.

These lines and forms are not easy to establish. An automobile is something which is used, and its users do not dissociate form from function. If that were the case, they would put their car in a display window.

Appearance and use go together, which excludes the uncertain and arbitrary from formal design.

“Style” designates both an act and its consequence, the cause and the effect.

From the viewpoint of result, style, while specifying lines and forms, must make and impression on the viewer, the first impression from the first glance at a new model.

From the procedural viewpoint, styling designates the work of a team of designers, men and equipment organized into a design office. Their creation is arranged according to two complementary finalities: the determination of good and appealing forms and their industrial feasibility. The one originates on the basis of marketing department conclusions. The other leads to the manufacture of the vehicle.

The stylist is an artist of a very special breed.


Born in the United States in 1934.

Graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York.

From 1957 to 1961, General Motors Design Centre in Detroit.

Up to 1963, Sigvard Bernadotte Design Centre in Denmark.

1963-1982, collaborates with Ogle Design in Great Britain.

1969- 1982, teaches Automotive Design at the London Royal College of Arts.

In 1982, Carl Olsen is appointed head of the CitroŽn Styling Centre.

His creative work is hemmed in by a variety of limiting factors. He must achieve a balance between his own aesthetic criteria andthe respect for the basic features of the make’s image, a knowledge of customer tastes, a partly intuitive, partly scientific anticipation of future life styles, the integration of regulatory, economic and financial factors and a compatibility with mass-production.


The attention given by CitroŽn to style comes from a long tradition, whereby design is not just an arm of sales promotion but also a major factor in the image of the firm and its conceptual thought.

All the models of the make originate from the same philosophy of automotive function:

reflection on the advanced form of individual transport and the technical innovations entailed in this progress must be closely correlated with a study of forms, free of conformism and preconceived notions.

Studies of load distribution to which CitroŽn is greatly attached, a search for passenger comfort, the choice of the front-wheel drive and aerodynamic tests led CitroŽn as early as 1934 to adopt the “dual body” type.

The Tractions, DS, SM, CX and BX, fast cars where speed is an important factor of rendered service, are naturally in keeping with elaborate aerodynamic research work.

The 2 CV, Ami 6, Mťhari, and the Visa, cars with a considerable dimension for practical use, were designed with architectonic factors in mind.

This is particularly obvious in the case of the 2 CV and its forms marked by functional and technical architecture. These prevailing functional features have rather extensively protected these models from the whims of fashion.

It is not any the less remarkable that creative accomplishments so different as the 2 CV and DS were the outcome of work not just with an identical method but with one and the same creator (Flaminio Bertoni).

For CitroŽn, styling is not just a way of solving problems concerning lines and forms specific to the product, it is also a rather special manner of approach, a very particular way of combining functional options and cultural alternatives.

This does not exclude recourse to input from elsewhere when it corresponds to the make’s established needs. At the outset, this was the case with the development of the Mťhari (project of Jean-Louis Barrault), the BX (project of Bertone) or for the exterior restyling of the Visa (project of Heuliez).

Mention is also to be made of a recent change of course motivated by the increasing impact of marketing specifications (based on the fact that styling considerations alone make up 70 % of the reasons for a car purchase). The aim is to give greater emphasis to the aesthetic and emotional reactions of the public. This receptive approach (although modulated so as not to conflict with the make’s image) is seen with the BX.

Even though styling at Citroen is more than ever a key concept, designers still do not have complete freedom. As in styling offices of other major automobile manufacturers, they are very much dependent upon a great many constraints. Some of them constitute a risk of vulgarizing style. Others, when carefully mastered, can by contrast become a source of a new creative freedom.


1. Government standards
Some, like safety standards, play a great role in the design of car bodies: in some cases, they leave the stylist no freedom of movement. One good example is tail lights: six different functions are regulated to the nearest millimeter.

2. Customer tastes
Presumably, an automobile manufacturer makes cars in order to sell them. This implies that the proposed product be sufficiently stylized to be identified with the manufacturer, but not so original that it will put off the customers, most of whom are conformist by definition.

Customer reactions are tested under survey conditions whereby the model under study is shown in the most neutral possible fashion among models of other makes. The filled-in questionnaire is used to determine whether or not the public likes the vehicle, if it is thought to be dynamic looking, if it appears to be part of our times, etc.

One final question determines if the vehicle is on the whole well identified to the make (the answer to this question asked in 1978 with regard to the BX was: 80% Citroen).

The purpose of these surveys is to determine the overall style of the vehicle on a definitive basis before beginning industrialization.

Harmony between the subject, the end and the means give style all its beauty.


The quest for quality, found in all art forms, leads us more to stylize forms than to submit to those forms.

Andrť Mairaux

The concept of form should not be limited to just the surface of things. When we speak of form, we must consider all internal and external structures.

Gerhard Frey

In this way, general management may be assured about the purely subjective aspects of the design. Objective considerations related to technical design and manufacture are evaluated elsewhere.

A more general approach to customer tastes using statistical tools evaluates future consumer expectations. In this respect, the buyers of CitroŽn medium and top-of-the line vehicles appear to be more eager for innovation than those purchasing the smaller models, who prefer the more classical forms thought to be more :assuring”.

Neither being stylists, they can only refer to known points of reference. For this reason, an unweighted consideration of their reactions could do away with innovation. The solution resides in balance.


Constraints of another kind exist:

1. Manufacturing requirements
They are economical as well as technical: the ever fiercer competition which reigns on the automobile market assumes that cars can be manufactured at the lowest cost.
The stylist’s project must take into account all cost reduction factors. This concerns standardization related to the use of common components or parts to limit investments. This is the economic imperative. It was at the basis of a 1981 re-organization of the three style centers of CitroŽn, Peugeot and Talbot now come under the “Vehicle Design Office” (DDV), one of the six departments of the PSA technical management.
However, this department is not involved in the subjective definition of interior and exterior style, which remains the prerogative of the CitroŽn General Management Office.

The twofold objective of DDV is limited to:

•    The establishment between the three makes of a synergism of means (computer assisted design, building of mock-ups) which, when shortening work time, multiply possible choices.

•    Seeing that the utilization of common components is compatible with the styling options of the makes.

Far from restricting the autonomy of CitroŽn stylists, this organisation should contribute to greater creative freedom.

As regards technical imperatives, which depend on the capabilities of tools and equipment used in mass-production, progress made by the engineers and technicians of the methods departments make available to stylists lists new possibilities. With the BX, for example, the windscreen so-called “on the edge" adhering method led to the elimination of the rubber strips used in the past.

2. Savings in consumption
For more than ten years, research in the field of aerodynamics and the use of synthetics has been carried out to diminish weight.
As a prime target for several decades already, CitroŽn is giving ever more importance to aerodynamics.
A forerunner with the DS, CitroŽn has made extensive use of synthetics in the BX. In addition to less weight (enough reason for future developments), they give the stylist a great many new possibilities: the back hatch of the BX has such a complex shape that no steel sheet press can make one.


All of these factors should bring about in the years to come changes in the aesthetics of CitroŽn cars. Their forms, more and more a function of aerodynamics, will lead to more roominess, at least on a subjective basis.

This trend should thus be marked by a study of the relationship between the total size of a car and the room inside, as a function of the demands of customers for “living space” and as a reaction to forms which in the past favoured the engine bonnet to suggest power. After having gone from three to two bodies, we might just go to one. More emphasis will also be given to forms at the rear of the vehicle to give the model its specificity.


The CitroŽn Styling Centre is located at Vťlizy some 9 miles to the south of Paris. It occupies recently renovated premises on 29,000 square feet in the heart of the CitroŽn Design Office.
In June of 1982, Mr. Carl Olsen took charge of the Styling Centre. He re-organized the Centre and developed new work methods.
Five sections are managed by Carl Olsen and Pierre Jaeger.
1. Exterior style (11 persons) is responsible for the design of car bodies, body equipment (such as headlights and grills) and their decoration (moulding, spoilers).
2. Interior style (5 persons) designs dashboards and other interior equipment (seats, safety belts, rear shelves).
3. These two sections receive assistance from the Color and Trim section (4 persons), which studies materials and colors.
4. The set-up of a Feasibility section constitutes one of the major innovations in the re-organization of the Styling Centre. This section (7 persons) maintains permanent contacts with the first three. Explaining industrial constraints to the designers, its endorsement is needed to progress through the stages of the overall work program. Its constructive input assists the stylist and facilitates the work of design engineers in the technical design field (coordination with
DDV) and the industrialization phase (coordination with the CitroŽn Design Office).
5. The modelling shop (26 persons) gives concrete form to projects approved by the “feasibility” section by making mock-ups.

A total of some 60 persons are involved, for the most part highly qualified professionals (stylists, color technicians, feasibility technicians, modellers).


The methods of the Styling Centre reside on three guiding principles:

1. Defend the freedom to create
For the stylist who must incorporate into his research a multitude of constraints (customer tastes, production factors, governmental standards, and financial capabilities), it is more than ever necessary to safeguard creative freedom so essential to innovation.
On an average, 20% of the time of stylists is set aside for independent study.

2. Decompartmentalization
In order to create a team spirit, without which no styling centre can expect to succeed, boundaries are broken down at all levels of the hierarchy:
•    Each week, leaders at the centre get together in a brain storming session. All problems are discussed.
•    The stylists of exterior styling are located in the shop area to be in permanent contact with the modellers.

This approach is based on multidisciplinary teams. A stylist must be able to play a concrete role in the building of a mock-up.

3. Maintain a spirit of competition
Competition is not an end in itself. It is, however, the way to give decision makers in general management as many choices as possible in the shortest period of time.
Competition is both internal and external.
Internal: each design request sent to the Styling Centre is entrusted in parallel to two teams. The best project is then selected.
External: for the most part, the Centre is in competition with exterior styling centres.

© 1983 le Double Chevron/2013 CitroŽnŽt - thanks to JL