By on June 27, 2014

This Sunday is World Industrial Design Day, a day when the ID Community brings awareness of this profession’s value. Though I left The College for Creative Studies with my tail between my legs, ID’s blending of business/entrepreneurship, art and science still charms me.  So let’s examine two ignition keys that owe their existence to the craft known as industrial design.

The BMW i8 is a revolutionary piece of Transportation Design. The i8’s key is no slouch in the Industrial Design department. Without rehashing what others say, it’s clear that Industrial Designers took the best attributes of the i8, the smart phone and today’s latest ignition keys to make something stunning.


Not to mention the i8’s key fob has a style that looks great in your hand and (sorta) blends into the assertive wedge forms present on the i8 console.  It’s a great piece of Industrial Design that forces you to consider how an Industrial Designer enriched your automotive hobby/career.

Take the Ford Pinto “utility” key for example. In some respects the Ford Pinto was an underrated piece of Engineering and Industrial Design. Sure, it needed that rubber pad to protect the gas tank from the rear axle.  But when it comes to simple, durable and honest Design, the Pinto worked.

Certainly not VW Beetle stylish nor Honda Civic enlightened, but dig this key: once cut for your ignition this baby gapped spark plugs, screwed down anything under the hood, let you crack open a beer and then fire up the beast so you can drive with a cold brew in your hand while you keep on truckin!!! 

Perhaps I got that last part wrong, so I am ready for the Best and Brightest to correct my weak Nixon Era Ford knowledge. But the Pinto utility key looks like the coolest gadget to have in your pocket in the early 1970s.  What the hell is an Apple iPhone anyway?  Sounds like gibberish talk of those nattering nabobs of negativism!

Just make sure you know which gap on the gapping tool is the right one for your engine.

Nice job integrating the Pinto logo and patriotic color scheme on a tool that elegantly and cheaply combines many things into a small hunk of metal. And that’s the heart of Industrial design: it plays a crucial role in dreaming, engineering (in theory) and producing exceptional products. The bottle opener is a bizarre feature by today’s standards, but it proves yesteryear was a simpler and stupider time.

And the Pinto/i8 keys do show how Industrial Design advanced over the decades. So to you, dear reader, Happy World Industrial Design Day!

Thank you for reading and have a fantastic weekend.

[Images: BMW]

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26 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: World Industrial Design Day...”

  • avatar

    Coca-Cola came in glass refillable bottles back in the Pinto’s day while pretty much nobody was too effete to drink beer from a can. A car key that opened bottles was far less stupid than the infantilism that passes for industrial design today.

  • avatar

    “yesteryear was a simpler and stupider time”

    Right, unimproved as it was by meth, mass child porn, internet predation, boomerang kids and morbid obesity.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point!

    • 0 avatar

      Actually no. Crime has fallen over the past 20 years, our life expectancy has improved, consumers have more purchasing power due to falling prices and the Internet has given us access to information, commerce and communication like never before.

      The old “things were better when I was young” grumble rarely withstands analysis.

      • 0 avatar

        People have learned that reporting crimes is a waste of time. The government has learned how to manipulate the CPI.

        • 0 avatar

          Or, we’re finally seeing the benefits from regulating lead out of the environment?

          If “the government” has learned anything, it’s that reporting crime actually works out well: you get to keep people afraid. Under-reporting crime stats doesn’t jive with that agenda.

          Or are we going to talk about how crime is down now that everyone is more likely armed?

          I’m so confused!

          • 0 avatar

            >>If “the government” has learned anything, it’s that reporting crime actually works out well: you get to keep people afraid. Under-reporting crime stats doesn’t jive with that agenda.<<

            You are confused. I said that people have learned that reporting crimes is a waste of time. That has nothing to do with what the government wants.

          • 0 avatar

            No CJ it was a genius statistician and an intrepid reporter that figured that connection out. Sorry it pisses you off. I’m with the lead for a lot of it though.

        • 0 avatar

          “People have learned that reporting crimes is a waste of time.”
          I pretty sure that murders are still being reported.

          “The government has learned how to manipulate the CPI.”
          The CPI is a somewhat political number but a new Camry is still 30% cheaper in real terms than it was 20 years ago as are many other consumer items.

          • 0 avatar

            Don’t Margaret Sanger’s eugenicists at Planned Parenthood like to take credit for killing all the murderers before they can hatch?

    • 0 avatar

      Lets add music to Kenmores post, I could listen to “Stayin’ Alive” all day, while most of todays pop is an unbearable mess of inbreeding.

      • 0 avatar

        Heh.. over at the dead Chevy dealership post I mentioned once trying an ’08 Aveo.

        Thinking of that car’s 5-speed actually made me find a YouTube of The Spinners performing “Rubberband Man”.

        “So much style, grace and debonaire from ONE man? Lord!”

  • avatar

    Far be it from me to criticize BMW industrial design, but that monster i8 “key” is supposed to fit into one’s pocket?!

  • avatar

    The i8’s key isn’t great design: it’s overwrought. Great design would have been an NFC tap (keyed to a user’s phone) or RFID key that’s keyed to the preferences of the driver. Ideally, you would never take the key out of your pocket, if you had to carry a key at all.

    Great design mostly stays out of the way, even when you need it. The i8’s key is in your face. In a similar way, just about every touchscreen ICE is a failure of design; attempting to do the same task as an analogue control, but in a worse fashion.

    It’s hard to do design well in automotive circles: designers are their own worst enemies, inasmuch as they get involved in what amounts to wankery, and good design is often derided as Playskoolish (because, really, what you want when you’re distractedly piloting two tons of metal along at 80mph are secondary controls that are cryptic and confusing)

    Here’s a good one:

    That’s the 2004-2010 Toyota Sienna. Not inspiring by a _long shot_ but dig those controls: both tune and volume are fat twist-dials (punching rocker switches to change stations is profoundly frustrating). All the controls are logically grouped, up high and within reach (the Oddy gets this wrong) widely spaced and easy to pick out visually (the 2011+ gets this wrong, as does every Oddy) even at night or in glare.

    Other examples I can think of:
    * the Ford Escape’s “wave your foot to open the tailgate” which is a godsend when you have your arms full.
    * The Honda Fit’s floorplan.
    * The E46’s engine compartment “storage bin” for odds and sods while you’re working (yeah, I know this isn’t what it’s for, but it’s useful)
    * The storage nooks all over the Toyota Echo/Yaris’ cabin (under the wheel, either side of the console, two glove boxes, under the seats…)
    * Honda’s use of the after-the-rear-axle dead-space in the Oddy for fold-flat rear seats.
    * Saab’s “Night Panel” switch
    * Fore-aft articulating headrests

    • 0 avatar

      Good point, I’m getting tired of designers who’re too concerned with impressing snobby journalists over proper design.

      Perhaps my favorite car interiors were those I’ve found in 80’s Saabs, RWD Volvos, and Mercedes. They held together well, but most importantly everything was easy to find and laid out with an emphasis on tactile feel. There was nothing showy, because the designers want you to watch the road.

      Saabs center mounted ignition is something of note too, it just makes more sense, and keeps your keychain from dangling.

      That Sienna does indeed have a decent set up, I don’t like the colors, but its clear that the designers had others in mind when they made the interior.

      • 0 avatar

        “Saabs center mounted ignition is something of note too, it just makes more sense, and keeps your keychain from dangling.”

        I’d completely forgotten about that, but yes, it made a lot of sense. It’s less necessary in the era of keycards, but at the time it was a subtly brilliant idea.

        So were Saab’s seats, FWIW.

        it’s also perhaps the one thing GM could have learned from Saab that would have saved them just a tonne of money.

      • 0 avatar

        I very much agree with you about Saab, in fact I think the control interfaces of the original Saab 900 are just about perfect in every way. All the controls are simple and logically laid out, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them can be operated with gloves on. Volvos are not nearly as good, and Volvos HVAC system was nothing like as flexible. Mercedes was a bit of a hot mess, at least in US trim with the typical auto HVAC setups.

        The reason to put the key down on the floor between the seats was to keep the key from punching a hole in your knee in a crash.

        • 0 avatar

          Indeed, I recall sitting in one in the junkyard and I immediately understood their practical appeal.

          Only problem is Saab 900s are a bit old. Did SaabGM make any cars that retained the brilliant seatsinterior layout of the 900’s?

          I can’t vouch for all Volvos, but I can operate everything in my 240 with gloves on, well everything except for the radio. The HVAC system isn’t all that flexible I’ll admit.

          Also, you can’t open the ash tray if the cars in park. This makes it hard to get spare screws or anything when I’m working on the car.

    • 0 avatar

      “…RFID key that’s keyed to the preferences of the driver…”

      My wife’s Toyota Rav4 does this to an extent. Based on the key fob that it senses is in the driver seat, it will adjust the radio/nav unit settings. We still have to press the 1 or 2 button on the door for the memory seats, though.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I was thinking the same thing as “IHateCars” about the BMW gadget: how’s it fit in your pocket? I will “me, too” to Psarhjinian’s comments, except, having owned a Saab for 11 years, I found the “night panel” button to be no more than a gimmick for Walter Mitty’s who wanted to imagine themselves flying an interceptor while driving down the highway in the dark.

    As a non-expert, it seems to me that the essence of good industrial design is simplicity in both appearance and operation. After all, isn’t Apple’s original design triumph, the development marketing of a PC operating system with a graphic user interface that is fairly intuitive and simple? Contrast that with using, say, WordPerfect 4.1 for DOS which not only does not give you a WYSIWYG display but requires the user to recall a set of arcane commands (shift + F7 to underscore).

    BTW, Ssjeev, as a Houstonian, you will appreciate this bit of trivia: when I arrived in Houston to work for the Chronicle in 1973, Texas did not have an “open container” law. As a result, it was common for folks to drive around swigging from a beer can. Cars of that era not having cupholders, 7-Eleven sold plastic holders that would hook into the window channel of your door and hold a 12-ounce can right up front, near the dashboard, where you could see it and easily reach it with your left hand. This little piece of plastic is far and away the best cupholder I have ever used in the 41 years that have elapsed since then. A real piece of industrial design!

  • avatar

    That I8 “key” would make a very neat wireless computer mouse along with the “dock” it sits in, but neither belong in a car right next to the shiftier.

    That Pinto keys perhaps the single best bit of engineering from the entire car, its neat and simple.

    I have a ring of keys from various junked cars, none of them stand out but they were all chosen for being notable (Honda CRX) or high mileage (several). And honestly they shouldn’t, a key is something you stick into your pocket, stick in the ignition, and you go. Only the OCD would put so much trouble into glorifying them like the I8s thing.

  • avatar

    Pinto key is genius. I8 ‘key’ is just another piece of clutter in a life where there are already too many digital devices. What does this actually add to the experience? A phone app can check your charge status and save you from having to carry yet another piece of crap in your pocket.

  • avatar

    Sanjeet, I love you man but if you think a friggin “key/fob” thingy the size of fuggin GEARSHIFT is brilliant industrial design….man I don’t know what to tell you other than some introspection about your departure from design school might be worthwhile….( those BMW designers must’ve had better connections!)

    Son,that’s absurd.

    This is just tech wanking for the sake of tech. I’m no ID grad but I can think of several better ways to do this without carrying around a gear shift in my pocket……hang. On……maybe that’s it? Impress the lads and ladies with your i8 pocket pal? Lol

    Give me a regular old key any day over this crap…..and get off my lawn.

  • avatar

    “Is that a gearshift in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

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