Mecha Car Logos
17 January 2010
Many designers, architects and visual artists of my generation looked at fashion design with a certain disdain. Fashion was expressing the folly of the day, design and architecture were aiming to more enduring goals. Maybe they didn't intend to design for eternity, but they certainly thought they had a far wider professional perspective than those zigzagging fashion people. Nobody believes that anymore and rightfully so. Fashion, design, architecture and visual art have all become part of the short lived beat of novelty. Or more precisely: perceived novelty.
Also the shelf life of logos have shortened dramatically over time. Now, all have to obey the latest fashion fads at the risk of being considered hopelessly out of date. Curiously, this trend doesn't fit well with the desire to have a distinctive visual identity. Following fashion means looking like everyone else in your segment. It's more a mark of a group distinction than an individual distinction which was initially the aim behind making a logo.The great contradiction of our times is that the addition of more design on every level of activity in society has made things more look alike, not more different. Take car design. I grew up with the VW beetle, the Citroen 2CV, the Austin Mini, the Rolls Royce and in the distance, the Chevrolet Corvette, the Pickup and the Ford Mustang. Each very different in flavour and looks. When being part of the massive streams of traffic today, it looks as if no car is identical but all look similar. Only the size differs. Probably, intensive market research in combination with media information at the speed of light is to blame for this. The massiveness of dissemination of information is breathtaking. A successful trend is picked up in no time and copied shortly thereafter. The mechanical life of cars have been growing steadily, but that doesn't have much effect on the period of ownership, by contrast, the release of new models initiated sales, just like it does for garment.
The new trend in car company logos demands that logos should look metallic, glitzy and robust a bit like the heavily armed robots that started their lives in 1975 as 'Mecha' 'Grendizer' in manga strips in Japan and are now often used under the name of 'Transformers' in car advertisement. The visual link to high tech armory is still quite popular when selling cars. Portraying driving as a sort of continuation of a video game into real life. So trends shift fast, but changes are often minimal. The Mechas are still popular after 35 years but their names may change into 'Terminator' or 'Transformer'.
The logo development overview of the French Peugeot brand marks clearly the shifting style periods—and shows the French laggardness in corporate graphics. Logos were for the longest time effectively illustrations closely related to traditional heraldry, with Art Deco the illustration became more abstract and the Modernists tried to bring logos down to bare bone symbols. That was a real break with tradition and marked the heydays of graphic identity design. Since then the austere path has given way to a more expressionistic and illustrative one, mostly because the visual spectrum of simple graphic symbols was simply to narrow to create room for so many different graphic identities performing on an ever bigger stage. So today a logo can literally be anything that can claim a minimal visual niche among hundreds of million others. Yet, fashion still holds sway.