GM Styling/Harley Earl's wonderful 1938 booklet, excerpts below, says it all on what this giant pioneered in industry:
"BEAUTY FOR EVERYONE"
The following images are from pages 16 thru 25 of the "MODES and MOTORS" booklet and allow one to visually conceptualize the flavor behind these new regions this original American renaissance man was first in industry to trailblaze. People today can now appreciate this history more than ever, especially since Harley Earl's products of yesteryear often look better than what's out there today.
To break it all down quickly, here's another way to examine how Harley Earl truly revolutionized and fully organized these landmark areas, illustrated here, that went on to play no small part modernizing Detroit's mechanized auto world. Not much has changed after all these years concerning the innovative process of this hybrid form of "art, science and engineering" he applied to car architecture and other products of transportation and locomotion. It's also important to note that even general product designers, outside the world of transportation design, went on to feel the special effects of Earl's innovative design principles. For example, using clay and plaster model forms to build up the concept replicates, of any new products, went on to allow all sorts of different advantages to unfold for design/engineers.
Naturally, General Motors was the earliest manufacturer to adopt Mr. Earl's radical new math based principles of design. Doing so actually paved the way for this man to receive industry-wide recognition later on for inventing a whole new way of pre-engineering the car ahead of time, i.e., the Automobile Design Profession.
Sadly, GM went thru dramatic hard times over the last 30-odd years and that is why this large company lost so many great things. But even after this car company's devolving, it's still impossible to erase all the vivid evidence and scholarly examples of Harley Earl's central story of "Industrialized Art." Put another way, over the years since Mr. Earl died in 1969 - this valuable history on motor car designing being linked directly to "the modern art of industry" has been practically disemboweled in Detroit since no one knew how to follow up where Harley Earl left off. Simply put, GM did what most large corporations do...a horrendous job internalizing one man's life work: Mr. Earl's highly romantic car building ways.
This is why so many people in and around Detroit's auto world don't know much about Harley Earl and how he created an important "American Art Form" that is simply irreplaceable. Case in point, read a powerful maxim founded by Harley Earl (from page 28 below), that all big three U.S. auto makers entirely skipped using to design their products from 1975 thru the early 1990s:
"As in the case of the automobile, mechanical improvements, too, have contributed to improved appearance. In fact, it is rather an accepted principle that as a product is improved functionally, it tends to become better artistically."
To read more on Mr. E's good design periscope, click below
Booklet transcribed below:
But hardly anyone will think of industry.
For art in industry is comparatively new.
Only in recent years has the interest of manufacturer and user alike been
expanded from the mere question of “Does it work?” to include “How should
it look?” and “Why should it look that way?” Appearance and style have
assumed equal importance with utility, price and operation. The artist and the
engineer have joined hands to the end that articles of every day use may be
beautiful as well as useful.
Every civilization has contributed something
of importance to man’s understanding of the principles of beauty. It remained
for our own times, through new forms of skin to provide the means by which
artistic creations are made available to everyone.
Probably in no field have the results of the
application of art to the products of industry been more apparent than in that
of the automobile. In this book is told the story of this new partnership,
together with a description of the methods used in designing style and beauty
into a modern motor car.
Art is as Old as
This simple drawing is important to us because in it Ab demonstrated, all unconsciously, certain principles of beauty and design that have governed artistic creation ever since. For example, he used bold sweeping lines. He painted in color. Later artists found that color adds naturalness to any composition. He pictured the bull in motion-it is now an accepted principle that motion increases realism and interest. Again, although he made his picture smaller than life size, he kept the various parts in rough proportion (experts call this “scalar reduction”). Finally, and doubtless without being aware of what he was doing, Ab utilized effectively most of the seven elementary shapes we know today. *
Thus, right at the very beginning certain
definite principles of design were laid down that have been followed from that
day to this.
* Most authorities agree that these seven
elementary shapes are the straight line, the semi-circle, the circle, the
spiral, the wave line, the broken line and the letter S.
Art and nature, then, are so closely related
that appreciation of beauty is not limited to the artist or the art student. We
all know when we like a pattern or design. You often hear a person say, when
looking at a new design, “It doesn’t look right.” You probably have said
it yourself, without exactly knowing why you felt that way. Usually it is
because objects designed naturally, in accordance with such natural laws as
balance and unity, are pleasing to the eye—they “look right.” * At
the same time, whatever violates the laws of nature “looks wrong.”
* Incidentally, things that follow natural forms usually work better, too. Airplanes are coming to look more like birds, while submarines follow the general outline of a fish.
In Earliest Times
A neighboring people, the Assyrians, excelled
In the use of color and discovered that borders make a structure appear
stronger. Sculpture was made more life-like, more “natural,” by an unknown
Assyrian about 2,000 years ago when he conceived the idea of modeling the
surface of statues to represent muscles.
* Simplicity, for example, is the keynote of modern architectural design. Skyscrapers and suburban bungalows alike are characterized by straight lines an smooth surfaces.
In Greece and Rome
The Romans followed in the footsteps of the Greeks, but rarely, if ever, equaled the work that had already been done in the realm of pure artistic creation. The Romans were practical men, faced with practical problems and driven by the desire to build a great empire. So it was chiefly in the field of architecture and public works that the Romans showed themselves to be highly skilled and able artists, men with the vision and the ability to translate into stone the beauty that every truly useful thing must have.
Every civilization has thus helped to teach us the principles by which things are made beautiful. Wherever artistic geniuses lived and dreamed, they left behind them evidences of their hopes and ambitions and desires—evidences that have come down to us in the form of artistic creations.
Beauty for Everyone
Widespread dissemination of art was
impossible because a means or method for duplication of artistic objects was
lacking. Even small, movable works of art were scarce and costly. The artists of
long ago were creators of beauty by their own hands-and by their own hands
alone. The master painter of the Renaissance could produce only a few great
pictures during his entire lifetime. A master silversmith, such as Cellini who
lived in the 16th century, made relatively few pieces, spent months and even
years in the creation of a single cup or bowl. Duplicates were rare—the
pleasure and benefit derived from a single work of art were restricted to the few.
Let us suppose, for a minute, that Cellini
had lived and worked today. His designs would be used as master patterns.
Expert craftsmen using modern methods would reproduce his work in finest detail,
quickly and surely. Millions of these reproductions could be made and
distributed all over the world. Everyone would have an opportunity, if he so
desired, to see and purchase the product of this great master’s brain and
In recent years, through such joint efforts
of artists and engineers, sound artistic principles have been applied to
hundreds of things in everyday use—from the package of perfume we buy at the
store to the motor car we ride in. Not only has the influence of the artist been
multiplied by science and industry, but modern research has provided the artist
with a much more exact knowledge of artistic principles. No longer is it
necessary to depend entirely upon “impressions” and that vague faculty known
as “taste” in arriving at critical standards of comparison in artistic
fields. * It is true, of course, that art cannot be produced with pure
mathematics and applied science alone—there must always be the added
ingredients of human feeling, inspiration and imagination that are the mark of
the truly great artist.
* For instance, research into the function of
nerve endings, or “buds,” in the eye has thrown new light on the effect of
The Common Goal
Knowledge itself became widespread only when invention made it possible to reproduce in quantities at low cost the work of the world’s writers and thinkers. When manuscripts had to be written by hand, only a few people ever learned to read. The printing press made information and learning available to everyone.
Radio and motion pictures, through the
application of research and modern industrial methods, bring the finest artistic
productions in the field of music and drama into the lives of us all. Tomorrow,
television may still further widen our opportunities to enjoy the beauties of
the world in which we live.
By thus bringing together the best artistic
thinking from aII fieIds, it’s entirely possible that within the span of our
own times the products of our factories will come to represent one of our most
noteworthy contributions In the realm of art.
During this period the artist regarded manufacturers with thinly-concealed contempt—to him they were rough, coarse men whose sole purpose in life was to make money. In turn, manufacturers considered most artists to be dreamy, impractical fellows, notoriously unsuccessful by the accepted business standards of the day. Few of them felt the need of an artist to tell them how to design their products.
So, for more than a century we, in this country, were busy thinking out and learning how to make the things we wanted. Even with the development of “mass production”—that is, the technique of making goods in large enough quantities so that many people can have them—it was quite generally assumed that machine made products necessarily would lack artistic qualities. Gradually, however, as purely mechanical problems began to be solved, there came a growing realization that useful things need not be ugly, that in fact the most useful shape is the most beautiful—that good engineering and good design were closely related.
It was not by chance that makers of
automobiles were among the First to devote serious study to appearance
engineering. The automobile had grown out of the carriage business. In many
respects it still carried the earmarks of the family buggy it supplanted. But in
reality the automobile was a new form of mechanical transportation—it served the
individual, taking him where and when he wanted to go. To serve this
purpose well, it must fulfill a number of very definite requirements.
In the first place, the owner wanted to move
about at a rapid rate. He wanted to do so comfortably. He required a vehicle
that could be operated with ease and confidence. And, because the motor car was
a personal possession often second only to the home in which he lived, it was
essential that it express individuality, style and good taste.
The job of the designer, then, is to combine
the mechanical requirements with the human requirements—to bring together the
science of the engineer and the skill of the artist in order that the automobile
might be as beautiful as it is useful.
Quietly, in the drafting room and in the
industrial studio, this work has gone forward. Because the automobile utilizes
materials of every sort-metals, plastics, glass, rubber, fabrics,
lacquers-artists in many fields have been recruited from the style centers of
(In the following pages is described in some
detail the actual procedure employed in designing the modern motor car. We hope
you will find it interesting, as an example of the new industrial techniques by
which our surroundings in this mechanical age are being made more attractive.)
Motor Car Designing
The First Step
From the viewpoint of the customer, the problem involves what might be called human mechanics. In other words, the car, in a sense, must be built around the human form-must be so proportioned as to provide the greatest possible convenience, comfort and safety for the average occupant.
The artist is interested in what the car will
look like—in what it should look like. Because it is a swiftly
moving vehicle, its exterior must express fleetness and movement; because it
carries passengers, its interior must express comfort and repose.
*Leonardo da Vinci, the great Florentine
artist, demonstrated that in order to arrive at a satisfactory portrayal of the
human form the artist must possess a knowledge of anatomy—especially of the
bones and muscles that make up the structure of the body.
Design Runs Riot
Now comes what might be called a “creative field day.” Design runs riot. A group of designers* give free play to their creative instincts, working out all the new ideas that happen to come to mind. Files of drawings made in the past are consulted for whatever material of value they may contain. (Incidentally, an average of 1500 separate sketches are prepared in the process of arriving at one finished design.)
Along with the actual sketching, fashion
trends in other fields—women’s costumes, architecture, interior
decorating—are studied, for the motor car must reflect in its design the style
tempo of our times. Reports on special features and details of appointments are
compiled from surveys made among “Motor Enthusiasts”—practical motorists
who have more than a passing interest in motor cars.
Then comes a period
of appraisal in which these various conceptions are weighed one against the
other. Out of it all emerge a few ideas that have definite possibilities of
application—the rest are filed away against a time when, under different
conditions, something that is not quite acceptable today may become the mode of
* We call these men “designers,” when
perhaps a more accurate name would be “artists”—except that so many people
still think of artists as men wearing smocks and painting in oils.
Models in Clay
While finished designs are being created on the drawing board these artists develop their ideas in miniature, quarter size clay models. They spend hours and days molding contours with their hands, scraping and smoothing lines with tiny instruments, adding a curve here, taking away a curve there. It is careful, painstaking work, requiring patience and craftsmanship of the highest order. The clay is very much like that sold for children’s use and is kept at proper working temperature in special electric ovens.
Clay models have two main advantages over
drawings and sketches—they are in three dimensions and therefore show more
nearly how a design will finally look, and the soft clay permits easy
experimentation with different contours.
From these models other characteristics
besides appearance can be studied. For example, by placing the scale model in a
wind tunnel and generating gales up to fifty miles per hour, the effect of wind
resistance can be measured. Incidentally, through such tests it is sometimes
found that some minor projection or curve creates an unusual wind noise, in
which case the contours are changed to eliminate the objectionable sound.
For example, take the recent development of all-steel tops. The idea was in men’s minds and on their drafting boards long before it could be put into production, simply because no one knew how to make steel sheets of the required size and quality, nor had any press been developed capable of stamping them into shape.
So right here at the beginning, production
men and engineers step into the picture to check the efforts of the artists and
make sure that the design selected can be produced with the present knowledge of
materials and methods. When the necessary alterations have been completed, a
full size drawing of the new model is made in chalk on a blackboard. Here every
curve and every dimension is accurately plotted and drawn in outline; end views
as well as side views are shown.
You probably have noticed frequent references to the extremely fine measurements used in the manufacture of a motor car. Connecting rods and pistons are balanced within a small fraction of an ounce; clearances held to 2/1000 of an inch are common. This is fine work, requiring precision instruments and skilled workers, and the automobile industry is justly proud of the accuracy with which these operations are performed.
But these men you see in the illustration are
not interested in decimals and fractions—they are designing for comfort,
making the automobile body fit the human body. People vary so greatly in size
and stature that tiny fractions make little difference, but an inch or half an
inch is important in the angle of a seat cushion or the height of an arm rest.
The designers carefully check the full-size
drawing to determine proper door width, correct seat spacing and to establish
ample head and leg room. Is vision clear and unobstructed? Where should the
instruments and controls be placed so as to respond, easily to the normal
movements of the driver? Their decisions are based upon carefully computed
averages, but, whenever possible, adjustments are provided to make the final
product even more suited to the user.
As a final check on the interior plan, a “trim buck” is constructed—a skeleton framework built in accordance with the proposed interior measurements and arrangement. It serves an important purpose by providing an actual reproduction of the head room, seat width, seat depth, leg room and other dimensions that will be present in the finished body.
If changes seem necessary they are indicated
on the full size chalk drawings. Then, with the external outlines of the car
established, tracings of the blackboard drawings are made on vellum paper and
turned over to the drafting room staff.
Here the work is divided between two groups.
One group prepares full-size working drawings of the contours of the car, using
the vellum tracings. Another group concentrates on working drawings of details
such as bumpers, emblems and headlights. Both activities are carried on
simultaneously by skilled and experienced draftsmen. As time goes on and the
design progresses through the various stages of full-size clay model, wood model
and finished body, these men will revise and keep up-to-date the early working
drawings they are making here. On their accuracy and care depends the success of
the final design in production.
Through the preliminary stages of design development miniature scale models provide a ready means of translating the idea and sketches of the artist into three-dimensional form. But later, when the new design approaches its final stages, full-size models must be made in order to be certain that the design is entirely harmonious.
Using the working drawings prepared in the drafting room, a full-size model is carefully built up out of clay, over a wooden form. Some parts of the work go rapidly; others, such as details of the louvers, radiator and rear contours require endless hours of experimentation. On the same body shape innumerable combinations of louvers, lights, fenders and grilles may be tried out before arriving at the one combination that is satisfactory in all respects.
No door or window glass is installed in this
model, and the interior is rough and unfinished. But every detail of the
exterior surfaces is carefully and accurately worked out, so that from the
standpoint of size and exterior design this clay model is an exact replica of a
With the last minute changes made, templates*
and patterns are taken of every curve and contour for use in the construction of
the hand-made wood model described on the following page.
* Pieces of wood cut out to fit over section of
the body, reproducing its curves exactly.
Models in Wood
When the design has been accurately reproduced in clay, the activity shifts to the wood and metal shops. Here, as shown in the illustration, a new full-size model is built up out of mahogany and poplar. Metal parts, such as bumpers, grilles and body hardware are made by hand by skilled workers, and are finished complete down to the smallest detail and even plated with chromium where required.
Next the inside of the car is trimmed. Seats
are installed, glass placed in the windows, instruments in the instrument panel.
Tires are mounted in position, doors hung, head and tail lights put in place.
The exterior surfaces are then covered with cloth and painted. The cloth is used
to give an extra smooth surface to the body, so that the painted areas will have
all the gloss of a new car. As a result, this finished model—lacking an
engine, frame and all the rest of the chassis—so closely resembles a real car
that most people can’t tell the difference from a distance of six feet.
From this finished model a complete set of
master drawings are made and turned over to the engineers and designers. They in
turn make the shop drawings, dies and patterns from which the design will be
produced in steel.
As already pointed out, the exterior of a car should be suggestive of motion and fleetness—an effect achieved, in the main, by the use of dominant horizontal lines. The interior of an automobile” must give a different feeling—a sensation of restfulness and repose for maximum passenger comfort. This is accomplished by using about the same technique as in designing a living room “cozy corner.”
The details of interior treatment are worked
out simultaneously with the development of the exterior design. Hardware and
moldings in many different styles are prepared. Customer preferences bearing on
types of fabrics and styles of trimming are consulted. Harmonious color schemes
in floor coverings, head-linings and upholsteries are developed.
Of special importance is the design of the
instrument panel. For maximum safety, relaxation and comfort the instruments
must be within easy vision, the controls within easy reach.
Moreover, the color must be neutral and the instruments adequately illuminated.
The proper design and location of gear shift
levers, door handles and window controls, the position of rear vision
mirrors—all are of importance from the standpoint of safety and comfort.*
* Incidentally, it was found that when such
things as door handles were designed to be better functionally—that is, so
they would not catch the coat sleeves—they become more attractive in
Fashions in Color
These color experts do not guess at what colors should be used—they find out by conducting field surveys at regular intervals among new car buyers everywhere, tabulating exactly what colors people like.
On the large map you see illustrated above,
the color “vote” in each state is recorded and kept up-to-date. In passing,
some interesting variations might be mentioned. For example, in the colder
sections of the country, black and blue are favored; in southern areas light
colors such as tan take preference. Automobile colors are even a fairly good
index of economic conditions. During periods of reduced business activity people
seem to prefer dark colors and swing to lighter hues with the return of good
New colors, especially those destined for automotive use, must be tested carefully before being used in production. This work is carried on in part at an extensive testing station in Florida, where sample color panels are exposed for long periods to the action of the hot tropical sun and the salt air. At regular intervals these panels are checked for signs of deterioration, or “weathering” as engineers call it. No finish can be adopted for automotive use until it passes these tests.
At any given time upwards of sixty colors
stand approved by the color experts, including special forms of lacquer such as
the recently developed metallic colors—made by adding a small quantity of fine
aluminum powder to the pigment. From these approved colors selections are made
for the various types of cars and body styles.
Many months have passed since the first conference of engineers and designers. Much work has been done—plans have been made and thrown away—ideas tested and rejected—designs perfected. The long weeks of study and research are drawing to an end. Engineers, designers and draftsmen gather to see the final result of their joint efforts.*
The curtains roll back, the lights flash on.
A new car is born!
In the factories, production soon will start.
Then a different kind of craftsmanship comes into play-the craftsmanship of
skilled production workers who execute the designs of the artists and engineers.
Materials begin to flow into the factories, wheels begin to turn, and soon
replicas of this master model will be sent to thousands of customers all over
the country. But for the designers the job is finished—it is time to start
another. Like the artist who draws Christmas cards in June, the automotive
designer works far ahead of the actual appearance of the product on the market.
* Incidentally, you might be interested in
knowing that the best way to judge the appearance of an automobile is to look at
it from the front fender. This fives you three-quarter view of the whole car,
talking in both front and side.
Design in Other
Because the principles of sound industrial design are equally applicable to any field, extensive development work in design is carried on with a number of diverse products, ranging from radios to streamlined trains, from batteries to buses.
No matter what the product may be, the
problem of its design is approached in the same way. To follow the progress of,
say, a truck design, would be largely repetition.
However, you may be interested in glancing
through the following pages to see some of the results of this
design activity in other fields.
Trucks and Buses
The appearance of trucks and buses used to be even more neglected than the appearance of passenger cars—all the attention was given to power and capacity. In fact, only within the past few years has any real progress been made towards making commercial vehicles pleasing to the eye.
While passenger and driver comfort, ease of
control and adequate visibility are of the same importance as in passenger cars,
a distinctive commercial body design in itself possesses value
from the standpoint of serving as a sort of moving billboard advertising the
owner and his products.
Buses present their own peculiar problems of
design—maximum passenger capacity, comfort, safety and ease of handling must
be provided. But designers say that, strangely enough, one of the most difficult
things to develop is a satisfactory plan or scheme for painting the body. The
bus body is a massive object and it is the task of the designer to handle these
large areas of external color so as to por•tray gracefulness and fleetness.
The sweeping lines and pleasing color harmonies you see on the latest
transcontinental buses were worked out mathematically to create this effect.*
* As in the case of the automobile, mechanical
improvements, too, have contributed to improved appearance. In fact, it is
rather an accepted principle that as a product is improved functionally, it
tends to become better artistically.
In automobiles the principal benefit of streamlining is in improved appearance. Since an automobile is usually operated at relatively low speeds except on rare occasions, the factor of wind resistance does not affect economy or performance to any great degree, practically speaking.
Trains are a different matter. They are often
run at high speeds over long distances. They have a large frontal area. By
following the best streamline practice, combined with the utilization of new,
lightweight materials now available, it is possible to effect great savings in
weight and operating costs, and at the same time increase passenger comfort.
With the development of Diesel powered trains
the whole problem of locomotive design could be approached from a new angle. Not
only were designs developed for many of the streamlined locomotives now in use,
but the work was extended to include the interiors of the cars, the color
scheme, seating arrangement and, in some cases, even the china, the silverware
and the porters’ uniforms.
For example, car radios and heaters were
redesigned from the standpoint of style and utility, resulting in products that
harmonize with the interior treatment of the car. Such little refinements as
proper blending of colors, smoother contours and accessible controls are the
result of long testing of preliminary designs before the final one is selected.
Storage batteries likewise were given a
“face lifting” treatment. Simply because batteries are usually out of sight
was no reason why they should not be better looking, reasoned the engineers. The
application of the principles of design to this particular problem resulted in a
battery that was not on I y more pleasing to the eye, but much easier to keep
clean—which incidentally seems to bear out the theory that just as mechanical
advances promote better appearance, so design based on sound artistic principles
frequently results in improved function.
What of Tomorrow?
Progress in artistic design, as in most other things, is evolutionary. Advancement comes in logical sequence—-it would not have been possible to jump, for example, from a 1934 design to the current one without benefit of the experience that came in between. Each year new knowledge and new skills are added to what was known before. In the constant striving for better products there can be neither hurrying nor holding back.
Always there is a race between our ideals of
what a thing should be like and our ability to make it that way. Design
frequently waits upon technological advancement before the product can be made
as the artist pictures it in his mind—upon new materials and new methods and
machinery to work these materials, and upon mechanical improvements in the car
itself. Finally, every improvement in design must always be measured in terms of
the cost of this benefit to the user. Modern industry by constantly devising new
methods and perfecting new processes has brought a multitude of former luxuries
within the reach of the average person.
There is much speculation about what the car
of the future will look like—and many people have ideas about how it should
look. As a matter of fact, no one really knows. We can look back over what has
been done in the past and discover certain trends. We can even hazard a guess as
to how long these trends may be continued. Further than that no one can, with
accuracy, speak. But there is no reason to suppose that ten years from now the
automobile will look any more like the car of today than today’s car looks
like the product of ten years ago.
Certain it is that out of the merger of art,
science and industry, fostered and made effective by modern industrial
processes, have come new techniques that have within themselves the ability to
create an entirely new pattern and setting for the life of the world.