Car faces & body language

IMG_3428Humans have a fascinating tendency to see faces in random things, such as clouds. This phenomenon is called ‘paleidolia’.

We do the same with cars – and often ascribe personality traits to these inanimate objects based on their front end features.

“Even if people don’t consciously read the face of a car, they certainly do it subconsciously.”*

This trait is important to understand as our choice of car reflects our values and personality (not just our purpose and budget). We ‘wear’ cars – just as don clothes and other accessories, such as sunglasses, bags and shoes (and pets).

While some people are attracted by cute cars with big round headlamp ‘eyes’ and a ‘smiling’ bumper bar or hood, others prefer more aggressive, masculine cars that communicate superiority, seriousness, dominance and power.


The former group are possibly influenced by our genetic predisposition to respond positively to childlike attributes, such as large eyes and rounded shapes.


The latter group are presumably responding to features that are typically associated with higher levels of testosterone, such as smaller and more angular headlights (eyes) topped with strong lines (brows), and balanced by wider jaws and big chins (and perhaps even a bull bar as a moustache?).

(You might think it’s crazy but conversations about car names and personalities apparently work really well as pick up lines for women who feel that these topics are not taken seriously or appreciated by the average bloke.)

man-green-car-18835857There are also car owners that are more interested in helping to save the planet by buying an hybrid or fully electric car (and in letting other people know this by making sure that their car can be easily recognised).

(I am not normally a South Park fan but I love Kyle’s dad driving around town in his hybrid ‘Pious’ to show it off and promote its eco-credentials – here. The Chaser suggests that playing an intellectual radio station or driving to an environmentally friendly destination might further improve fuel efficiency.)

Marketers take advantage of our paleidolia, to some extent, by designing cars that aim to ‘connect’ with prospective buyers and represent the image that owners wish to portray.

In reality, manufacturers cannot change the design too radically as the car still needs to be familiar (as this tends to engender trust) and some components, such as grilles and bumpers, are critical for branding. There are also safety, technological and cost constraints to consider.


However, innovative LED and plastic extrusion technology are revolutionising features such as car lighting and body design by allowing sleeker wraparound forms, freeing up space by providing more light from smaller more versatile fittings, and being able to better integrate components. Just think of the possibilities with 3-D printing!

Companies will presumably be able to customise the ‘face’ of cars with ever increasing sophistication – building on the currently available range of colours and other optional extras.

Perhaps people will even be able to provide a picture and order a car that looks like them or their favourite celebrity in the future?

(We have certainly come a long way from the days when Ford customers could have any model they wanted as long as it was a Model T and any colour as long as it was black!)


As we don’t wear the same clothes every day, we would ideally have multiple cars to choose between – but for most people this is cost prohibitive and impractical.

We can already buy accessories such as glow in the dark car eyelashes (e.g. here) and car bling such as diamond encrusted number plates (e.g. here) – but imagine if we could flick a switch to change our car’s ‘expression’ to communicate how we are feeling on any particular day.

For example, it should be relatively easy to modify the shape or angle of LED light ‘eyebrows’ above the headlights to indicate that ‘I’m having a great day!’ or ‘I’m tired or sad – beware of erratic behaviour’ or, most importantly, ‘I’m in a foul mood – get out of my way!’


Even more emotions could be portrayed if the ‘mouth’ could also be adjusted. And perhaps one day we will also be able to make our cars wink or bat their car eyelashes?!


Sources (mostly accessed 29 May 2014):

Image credits:

Note: This was inspired by a fabulous post about a dream cars exhibition by Hoarder comes clean (here).

Categories: Marketing, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. where do Driverless Cars fit into this equation, Pip? – Also, maybe we can hook up sensors to our fingers and car will show our moods ;-)!!

    • I see that they have gone for the cute look for the prototype – which is hardly surprising given the small size, lack of driver control & max speed of 25mph during testing.
      Re the sensors – it would be great but scary if we could inform others about our mood or actions that influence risk factors. I loved a lexus ad a few years ago that showed electronic signs on nearby cars saying things like ‘i’m putting on makeup’, ‘i have just driven 300km nonstop’ and ‘i brake randomly’. My sign would probably read ‘I’m distracted by reading everyone else’s signs’!

  2. So many great ideas! (I hadn’t heard about the “Pious” — love that too, even though I wish I had one) This reminded me, I have seen a few car-outfits at Christmas, e.g. reindeer antlers, and sometimes wreaths.

    • The recovering economist told me about the Pious. People I know who drive them love to compare their stats – so I reckon they should have an external display that tells everyone what their fuel consumption average is!
      Are you sure you don’t have some of those car outfits hidden in your basement?!

  3. An interesting subject Pip. I never gave this much thought before. My wife is big on “cute” cars whereas I prefer the more sporty look.
    You’ve changed your site name & url. Looks like we have something in common but I think I’ve done it a lot more often. With this in mind I’m back at

    • Hi Tony
      I guess some people change their clothes or cars, others change their site names!
      I had no idea what to call my blog when I started it.
      It was a surprisingly simple process to change the name by linking another domain name & setting it as the primary one. – can you do the same so that people don’t have to resubscribe each time you feel like a change?

      • No I don’t think so. With self hosted WordPress you install a WP setup on a specific url.that has to be setup first. you set up the blog on a domain then can add another url to it. I’ve decided to stick with The Old Codgers as I just find it easier to put old people in funny situations easier than animals. Also there are tons of animal based webcomics around but from my Googling very few old people comics. I feel that The Old Codgers is more my own unique creation. As a Beyond The Black Stump comics fan, after thinking about it for a while I felt that Out The Bush was a bit too similar to BTBS. I like to try & keep my work as original as possible


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