Styling and design, more distinct than you might think

How often do you commit catachresis? I have on many occasions, although I’m not proud of it. Do you know what it means?

Catachresis (pronounced kat-uh-kree-sis) is the use of a wrong word for its context. An example would be swapping the subject words “styling” and “design,” something I’m certainly guilty of. Parsing the two terms, Dick Ruzzin explains their differences.

Ruzzin is an accomplished designer wielding envious professional experience in the automotive industry (covered in these posts). Earlier this year, at a party in Detroit, we talked about industry terminology and phraseology and the benefits of sharing that information. So, he generously offered to provide topical discussions for me to post, here.

Last time, he delved into creativity. For this installment, he breaks down the differences between styling and designβ€”words often used catachrestically.


Styling is an effort to make something attractive as the first priority, without necessarily enhancing its functionality.

Design is about putting both beauty and functionality into products of all kinds.

Design is the act of composing with beauty and functionality, an evolutionary and dynamic process that from the beginning of mankind contained a component of artistic content. It is a much more difficult task than simply putting functional elements together, it addresses the natural human attraction to beautiful things and the human desire to possess those things, sometimes simply because they are beautiful. -Ruzzin


This raised a few follow-up questions…

Autos of Interest: When developing a new vehicle, what activities fall within the styling category?

Ruzzin: Both design and styling are used typically. The proportion of each is infinitely variable and dependent on many factors. Styling is used when there are no functional requirements for that particular part of a solution, if there is no interference or compromise with the design activity.

Styling is done when there is freedom by the designer to do as he wishes or it may be required to make a product that is not competitive in the market due to a platform that is out of date.

Autos of Interest: Is excessive styling sometimes used as a substitute for good design? Should it be?

Ruzzin: The current trend of complexity in design could be called excessive styling. This has already started to change as some examples have been displayed by Cadillac. Complex car designs quickly become hard to look at and hard to understand therefore not memorable.

I do not think you can say it is right or wrong as it is driven by market forces and competition. It is a creative choice. This design approach will rapidly become out of “fashion.”

Autos of Interest: Does a product with an emphasis on design have longer shelf life than one with an emphasis on style?

Ruzzin: Only if it is executed in a manner that is classic and straight forward making it memorable. If it is very good and it is done on a platform that includes up to date or advanced engineering solutions then it can be long lasting. If big design breakthroughs linked to engineering solutions are revealed after it comes out it will not last as long as if they did not.

The key to long lasting design is advanced engineering not styling. Designers have to push hard for this in their everyday work.

The design execution or the artistic content has to be top notch on top of all the other requirements. This can be seen in many cars done by Giorgetto Giugiaro where copies of his designs were never done as well as he could do them. (See: Testudo, Mangusta, Cangaro, Piazza, VW Golf, VW Sirocco.)

Well, thanks again to Dick Ruzzin for his contribution and willingness to share here. (To say nothing about his pivotal contributions to our automotive landscape.)