STYLE - YOU EITHER HAVE IT OR YOU DON'T
le Double Chevron issue 74
Fashion is that which goes out of fashion
© 1983 le Double Chevron/2013 CitroŽnŽt - thanks to JL
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
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 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
1963-1982, collaborates with Ogle Design in
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 CITROňN STYLE
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
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
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.
HIGH RISK LIMIT FACTORS
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
between the subject, the end and the means give style all its beauty.
for quality, found in all art forms, leads us more to stylize forms
than to submit to those forms.
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.
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
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
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
A NEW FREEDOM
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
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
• 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
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
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
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).
PRINCIPLES AND METHODS
The methods of the Styling Centre reside on three
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
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
• 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
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