On the Tesla Cybertruck, design and the substance of things

, by
Patrick Schmalzried

The word «design» is among the most misused words in the English language. Most use it to describe how something looks. Design is about more than just looks however: it is about the substance of things. The Tesla Cybertruck drives this point home very clearly.

Really tough versus fake tough

First off: Yes, there are very famous designers who think that design is to just take something made by an engineer and then make it look good. That does not make this a good practice though. One example for such a designer is the former Group Vice President of Global Design for Ford, J Mays (yes, his first name is just J). In the BBC documentary «The Genius Of Design» he had this to say about his style of car design called «kinetic design»:

The function of kinetic design is to put a smile on your face.

In the same documentary J Mays further states that making a car look good is more important than actually engineering a car. This strange design philosophy did not hurt sales of the Ford F-Series: since 1948 the F-Series has been the best selling car in the United States. Ford advertises the F-Series with «Built Ford Tough», but one wonders how much of this Ford Toughness is looks as opposed to actual toughness. During the presentation of the Cybertruck Elon Musk poked fun at «Built Ford Tough»:

You want a truck that’s really tough, not fake tough.

So where the Ford F-Series only looks tough, the Cybertruck actually is tough: the ultrahard cold-rolled stainless steel alloy exoskeleton does not dent, scratch or rust. Not even hitting it with a sledge hammer does leave a visible dent. Nine millimeter full metal jacket bullets do leave visible dents – but they do not go through. You could say the Cybertruck has substance.

It is ironic then that many think the Cybertruck is poorly designed because it looks so edgy. Ironic because this edgy look of the Cybertruck is the direct result of the thing that makes the Cybertruck tough: thick, space-grade steel. This steel is so tough, that it is not possible to shape it via a stamping press: trying so actually breaks the stamping press. Hence the Cybertruck looks the way it does.

The substance of things

Firefly is a classic science fiction television series created by Joss Whedon. The series is about the adventures of a ragtag crew and their Firefly-class spaceship. In one of the episodes a rather eccentric bounty hunter by the name of Jubal Early makes some observant remarks about the design of Firefly-class ships:

Firefly is a good design. People don’t appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space. People miss out on what’s solid.

Replace «Firefly» with «Cybertruck».

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