Cybertruck: Good Design is Not About Looks Alone

I am not a designer but neither was Steve Jobs and he was behind some of the most iconic products in computer history. Good design is not merely about what something looks like but also about having a vision for the future and understanding the technology and usage.

To quote Steve Jobs:

Design is not just what it looks like and how it feels. Design is how it works

And that is an aspect I think your piece is entirely lacking. There is no disucssion of how form fits function. You are entirely focused on design as some sort of varnish you apply to a product after the engineers have done their job.

Great design in my humble opinion is when you managed to combine form, function and material design in a way that creates something unique and amazing.

Elon Musk works on first principles. You begin at the bottom with what you want to achieve, rather than what you want something to look like. They did not engineer a truck and then as an afterthought said: “Let us give it a flat angular look”

Instead this followed from the choice of materials and structure they made. 30X cold-rolled stainless-steel cannot easily be shaped, and thus an angular look follows naturally. I get into deeper details of why the Cybertruck looks the way it does here for reference.

The genius in the design to me then was to actually work with those constraints in a fresh way. They could have produced a boxy truck looking like the Bollinger truck, or they could have made something like the Hummer.

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The Bollinger electric truck

Instead they took a strong design constraint and flipped it around to something looking futuristic space vehicle or something out of a cyberpunk novel.

What Made Apple Design Great

I am not simply an observer at a distance of pretty objects. I have used well designed objects from companies like Apple and Palm.

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Apple’s G4 Cube Mac

A common accusation against Apple has always been that they are just about looks. You just pay for something that looks shiny. Your criticism of the Cybertruck essentially mirrors this age old style of criticism.

The Mac G4 Cube shown above was the first Apple product I ever owned. Sure it was beautiful to look at but that was just a small part of what made it stand out design wise. I still remember vividly the experience of turning it on for the first time almost 20 years ago. This was back when PCs were noise monsters you put under your table to no have to listen to the loud noises they made in operation.

I was used to pushing a mechanical button on my PC and hear and audible click to confirm my action. With the G4 there was no obvious mechanical button, just a power symbol suspended in the clear plastic casing surrounding it. So I touched it. Instead of a click, a bright impossibly white light radiated out from underneath my finger.

It was like being some sort of God or or Wizard command an inanimate object into service. And then nothing. In fact it was so incredibly silent in operation I started wondering if it was broken and put my ear close to it.

Why was it so silent? Because they had made the cube design not just a visually stunning artifact but also something that informed its engineering properties. The computer was actually built around a ventilation shaft. The transparent plastic holding it up, while looking visually stunning was also helping to get air for cooling in underneath. Rather than active cooling with noisy fans it used passive cooling giving it the silent operation.

The small form factor while looking elegant also made it possible to turn the whole thing on its head and drag the interior out with a handle. You could then very easily access every part of the interior to add memory, hard drives etc.

My point is that this wasn’t just about some lines methaphorically extending into the future. The stunning visual design was also interwoven with how it worked as a product.

Your criticism of the Cybertruck is entirely devoid of any consideration of purpose. How does the visual look mesh with the features, operation and usage of the truck? Without such consideration the criticism is rather hollow. It is like somebody used to criticizing modern art suddenly asked to review industrial design but pay not attention to what the thing is actually for.

The Importance of Fun

There is also an aspect entirely missing in a lot of these typical analysis of Tesla and Elon Musk. It is all too often written by people with their nose in the air, who completely forget there is such a thing as fun. Yes, people care about fun. People care about being excited about the future and what is possible.

Yes maybe the design does not appeal to the kind of people who want to spend their time in a Paris fashion show. But that is okay, Elon Musk isn’t making anything for those people. Elon Musk is a man who has dreamt of the future since childhood. For those of us who grew up reading popular science magazines about colonizing other planets and driving flying cars we relate to what Elon Musk is trying to achieve. We get his corny references because we read the same kind of science fiction books and saw the same movies.

As when he named the drone ship for landing the booster stage of the Falcon 9 rocket “Of Course I Still Love You,” from science fiction author Iain M. Banks culture novels. Or Falcon 9 itself which was named after the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.

It is a big departure from NASA using names like Apollo and Challenger invoking mythology and trying to sound epic. It is exciting but all the fun is drained out of it.

Looking at NASA it may be easy to think that this was all just driven by sober people nothing like Elon Musk. Yet if you read the history of Werner von Braun he was just like Elon Musk fascinated by space travel from early age by reading science fiction novels. It was not just a job for him. It was an obsession.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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