Motivating Millions

Responsive and cohesive design for a reactive society

What the Fiat 500 range and website design has in common…

The other month, a good friend of mine had a courtesy car for a week while his Astra was being repaired. He expected something similar and to his surprise he received a new Fiat 500X – Fiat’s new mini crossover SUV. This is Fiat’s second 500-based four-door hatchback, the first being the 500L.

Anyway, I had a little go and was pleasantly surprised and actually liked the quirky look of it. I mentioned this to the guys in work and it was met with a mixed reaction. Most seemed to dislike Fiat’s new offering, with some saying: “It’s ok but just not a Fiat 500, I don’t know why they didn’t call it something different!”.

Brand equity

However, on reflection, there are some strong brand reasons why they retained the 500 name. Apart from similar looks and using the same platform as the 500L, the new Fiat 500 has been a remarkable success. So, why wouldn’t they want to tap in to this existing brand equity? And, of course, they’re not the first to do it… BMW have been doing it successfully with the new MINI for years.

So, does this mean car manufacturers are becoming lazy and their cars are just piggybacking on the success of their forefathers? Will we cease seeing iconic cars being manufactured like the original Fiat 500, which is considered one of the first ‘city cars’? Are Fiat and the likes now essentially approaching car manufacturing differently?

Maybe they’re not striving to make the next iconic car but are happy to milk the existing equity in the old classics in order to remain responsive, current and profitable. Or is it just that society has changed its relationship with cars? Maybe they’re not seen as luxury purchases anymore, but just another product we’re happy to pay monthly for then upgrade when they get a bit tired or we fancy a change.

Cohesive solutions

This led me to consider if there are specific parallels with our industry? Certainly in some ways this echoes what we would consider a ‘cohesive design solution’ – one that allows for personality, flexibility and longevity, yet retains a strong, recognisable core theme. We embrace it in our own design work, and it feels like that’s what Fiat are doing with the growing 500 range.

As well as the cohesive approach to design, I wondered if there are specific parallels with the way we approach responsive web design?

Now that websites are viewed on an ever-increasing range of screen sizes, it makes perfect sense that the content changes to suit – the most important elements are retained while the superfluous details get hidden away or disappear altogether. A bigger screen size – like a larger chassis – allows for more content and physically larger elements; the content changes but the name of the website, campaign or product doesn’t change, just what it says and how it says it.

Staying responsive

So when Fiat spotted a need for a larger 500, they did the same. They took the design principles of the original and adapted them to suit the now larger platforms of the 500L and the 500X. In both cases Fiat sensibly responded to customer demand and built on the cohesive design principles at the heart of the 500 range.

What this means for the future of the car industry I can only guess – maybe we’ll see less models from the manufacturers but more versions of them? Maybe Ford will only make a family of Focuses, or Vauxhall only a family of Astras? Either way, I’d still like to see the manufacturers trying to create the next future classic just as much as I’d like to see bespoke, considered, responsive and cohesive website design rather than a load of re-skinned templates.


Steve James

Senior Designer
Corporate Culture/How on Earth