Transportation Design Tricks: Visual Kinetic Energy
In this Transportation Tricks mini-series, we take a look at tactics used by transportation designers that we can use to elevate the desirability of your consumer products. Transportation designers are highly trained and skilled in curating a high caliber design aesthetic that grabs and holds the attention of your customers. So, let's harness their tactics to bolster your product's design.
I'm not sure if this is a secret or not, but vehicles are designed to look like they are in motion (or ready to move), even when they are sitting still. Transportation designers leverage a few tactics to infuse a vehicle's aesthetic with an air of dynamic energy. Sounds a bit like hocus-pocus, I know, but it's real and significantly influences a customer's perception of the vehicle. We can apply the same methods to elevate the perception of your product.
Let's take a look at a few ways to control your product's visual kinetic energy:
Wikipedia's Glossary of Automotive Design states, "rake refers to the angle between the overall vehicle and the horizontal axis of the ground. If the back is higher than the front, the vehicle is said to have positive rake; if the front is higher than the back, this is negative rake."
A positive rake (the nose of a vehicle pointing towards the ground) makes a car seem like it is moving fast or ready to pounce. A negative rake (the nose of a vehicle pointing towards the sky) gives the illusion of slowing down, resting on its heels.
To boost your product's visual kinetic energy, give it a slight forward lean, a positive rake. What this does is equip your product with a sense of energy and motion, even at a standstill.
A vehicle's wheels plant it to the ground. The position of the wheels relative to each other and your product's body is considered your stance. Your stance is one of the biggest factors in communicating your product's athleticism. Think monster truck vs. motorcycle... A monster truck's wide planted stance conveys a strong, stable, but perhaps heavy visual weight, whereas a motorcycle's narrow stance conveys an agile, unstable, but light visual weight.
So, what does this have to do with motion? Wide, planted stances tend to make your product look slow and heavy, but stable. Narrow, light stances tend to make your product look light and fast, but potentially unstable. This isn't to say one is better than the other. Just know your product's visual energy should be intentional, aligned to your design strategy.
Note: Not all mobility products have wheels, but the same principle applies. Your product has a base, whether that be feet, a stand, or simply a bottom surface. Thoughtfully consider what stance and furthermore, athleticism, your product's base conveys.
Think all of those sweeping creases and surfaces on a vehicle are random? No way. They all serve a purpose- one of which is to add an air of movement to your product's overall feel. In addition to rake, the transportation designer can use curves to create visual motion on a stationary object.
Even on the squarest of vehicles, a Jeep, transportation designers carefully bend lines to add a sense of dynamic motion. Flat lines are boring, stale, and heavy. Sweeping or accelerated curves are more interesting and lead the eye from one point of the vehicle's body to another.
In addition to controlling individual curves, designers also control how two curves interact with one another, converging towards each other to add visual tension.
It all comes down to being intentional with your product's design aesthetic and being aware of how you can control it. Taking a cue from automotive design to incorporate visual kinetic energy into your product's overall look and feel is one more way to build up desirability in your customer's eye.