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Facial Expressions in Car Design

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People often associate human facial features with automotive front-end de- signs. This study reveals which combination of facial feature attributes best communicates the personality of human and car brands and which of these combinations evoke the strongest and favorable emotional attachments. The study also identified d ifferences in em otional re actions be tween different cultural groups (in this case, Japanese and American consumers) to given facial images. The author developed a method of decomposing facial features into individual attributes and created variables associated with each. The author applied Conjoint Analysis to identify the relative importance of each facial attributes from which consumers perceived personalities. The study was intended to support preliminary design directions for a car manufacturer who aims to communicate and differentiate p ersonality a ssociation o f their different car brands.
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Facial Expressions in Car Design
A method to compare relative importance of design aributes
SHIN SANO, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, USA
People often associate human facial features with automotive front-end de-
signs. This study reveals which combination of facial feature attributes best
communicates the personality of human and car brands and which of these
combinations evoke the strongest and favorable emotional attachments. The
study also identied dierences in em otional re actions be tween dierent
cultural groups (in this case, Japanese and American consumers) to given
facial images. The author developed a method of decomposing facial features
into individual attributes and created variables associated with each. The
author applied Conjoint Analysis to identify the relative importance of each
facial attributes from which consumers perceived personalities. The study
was intended to support preliminary design directions for a car manufacturer
who aims to communicate and dierentiate personality a ssociation o f their
different car brands.
Keywords
Car design, facial expressions, emotional attachment, brand
identity, cultural acceptance, conjoint analysis
Reference Format
Shin Sano. 2010. Facial Expressions in Car Design: A
method to comparerelative importance of design attributes. In Adjunct
Proceedings of the 7th International Conference
on Design & Emotion2010
(Chicago ’10).
1 BACKGROUND
Front-end design features of cars are often compared with human
or animal faces. For this reason, car designers attempt to leverage fa-
cial feature comparisons in order to create emotional attachment to
their automobiles. Headlamps are commonly called "eyes" and an air
intake or a radiator grill called "mouth" by analogy[Harada and Mori
1998]. People also associate front-end design with facial characters
such as, "gentle face" or "catty face". Children, being more sensitive
than adults point out "that car is smiling" or "this car is angry". It is
important to consider, however, that the perception of such facial
expressions may vary from culture to culture. For instance, Japanese
car styling have often been perceived as “too modest” or “having no
character” in Western countries, whereas Japanese consumers see
some American cars being “too exaggerated. Meanwhile, the design
division of Toyota Motor Corporation, for which the author worked
Author’s address: Shin Sano, ssano@creative-integration.com, Institute of Design,
Illinois Institute of Technology, 350 LaSalle Ave., Chicago, Illinois, USA, 60654.
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as a designer, strove to distinguish their brand identities not only
from other car manufacturers, but also from other brands within the
company. Unlike some European and American car manufacturers,
none of their brands, Lexus, Toyota, Scion, have been acquired from
other enterprises, in other words, they are all native-born in Toyota.
Therefore, they needed to carefully plan distinct design directions
for each brand, otherwise be prone to become too similar and blend
into one another. It is essential for them to appropriately communi-
cate a distinct personality of each brand to their target customers.
Prior to this study, the design group had developed sets of adjectives
that dene the personalities they intended to communicate through
the brands, and empirically established the brands’ front-end de-
sign features. Designers needed to further learn how even subtle
dierence in attributes of a front-end design feature could aect
emotional reaction from customers. Furthermore, another question
was if people from dierent cultures would associate the same type
of personalities from given facial expressions. While many cars
are becoming closer with respect to quality and functionality, it
became critical to create a method for measuring what factors are
emotionally relevant to their customers.
2 APPROACHES
The design team and the author set the following questions to be
answered. 1) What combination of facial feature attributes best
communicates the intended personalities of the human and the car?
2) Which of the attribute and what kind of design execution for
each attribute (levels) has greater contribution to prompt emotions?
3) How consistent are perceptions of human faces and car faces
from observer to observer? Are there any dierences in perceptions
between dierent cultural groups, for example, between Japanese
and American with respect to the importance of attributes in facial
features and the specic level of execution in an important attribute?
3 METHOD
In order to determine what combination of attributes best commu-
nicates an intended personality to customers, the author developed
a method of leveraging conjoint analysis. This method uncovers
the importance of each individual attribute, part worth of the each
level of attribute and total utility of a given facial feature. In order
to isolate factors, facial features were decomposed into individual
attributes and four attributes of design features for each brand:
Lexus, Toyota and Scion, were selected and three levels of design
executions were created (Figure 1). For data collection, surveys were
conducted with respondents from both the United States and Japan
to compare dierences in perceptions.
The survey displayed a description of personality attributes, such
as, "Resolute, intelligent and admirable". Respondents were asked,
“Please rank the following facial expressions on how they portray
the following personality characteristics. Please put a “1” next to the
7th International Conference on Design and Emotion 2010
2 Sano
Fig. 1. Three levels of design executions for each aributes in human and car face features for Lexus.
Fig. 2. Nine combinations of human and car faces for Lexus presented to respondents.
Table 1. Sets of adjectives defining personalities of car brands
Lexus Resolute, intelligent and admirable
Toyota Vital, engaging, honest and fresh-faced
Scion Individual, challenging and aspirational
facial expression that best portrays the personality characteristics
and a “9” next to the facial expression that least portrays the per-
sonality characteristics, and use all numbers in between to rank the
remaining facial expressions”. Three personality descriptions were
tested (Table 1). Although the factorial of possible combinations
of facial images is 81 (34), fractional factorial design method was
used to narrow combinations of facial images to be tested to nine
(Table 2). Nine randomized images in three rows, with three images
in each row, were presented (Figure 2).
7th International Conference on Design and Emotion 2010
Facial Expressions in Car Design 3
Table 2. Fractional factorial design matrix
a b c d e f g h i
A 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3
B 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
C 1 2 3 2 3 1 3 1 2
D 1 2 3 3 1 2 2 3 1
For the American respondent, the survey was conducted via the
Internet using the Harris Poll On Line panel. The total sample size of
n=510 was weighted to the adult US general population and screened
to exclude respondents who work in a sensitive industry. For the
Japanese respondents, the survey was conducted in paper form with
the company’s design evaluation panel. The total sample size of
n=132 were not weighted to the Japan’s general population. All the
instructions, questions and personality descriptions were translated
to Japanese. For data analysis, the multivariate statistical analysis
software called TPOS-PC, developed internally at Toyota, was used.
Before starting conjoint analysis, clustering analysis was performed
in order to lter groups that were signicantly heterogeneous in
the pattern of response. By providing the raw ranking data from
the respondents, as well as the number of attributes, levels, and
fractional factorial design matrix, the software returned the result
including the comprehensive ranking of all design proles with
total utility score, partial utility (part worth) scores for each level
in each attribute and importance, which is the contribution ratio of
each attribute in percentage.
4 RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS
Figure 3 presents combinations of attributes of the facial feature that
best communicate intended personalities of humans and cars. In
general, it is consistent in both human and car faces that eye features
play a relatively signicant role in creating the overall impression
of personality, whereas the mouth feature, that is, the radiator grill
or air intake in car front-end design, alters the perceptions the least
(Figure 4-6). This observation suggests that people tend to pay more
attentions to eyes when they try to read the personality or emotional
state of a person and a car. As commonly known, to detect a fake
smile, look at the eyes[Pink 2006]. The implication for a design
practice is that, when a designer intends to "face lift" in order to
attach a new impression to a car, it is more eective to change the
head lamp features rather then changing radiator grills or air intake
to inspire customers’ emotions. The same seems true for the human
face. Although reliable statistical information is lacking, it can be
observed that eyelid surgery is the most popular facial cosmetic
surgery today.
While some of the attributes selected for human faces are not
exactly comparable to those for car front-end design, a few consis-
tencies are observed in facial features between humans and cars.One
of the few consistencies is comparable iris position and lamp posi-
tion for the Lexus personality perceived by American respondents.
For them, both human irises being near to top and car head lump
being near to top creates positive partial utilities for conveying
Lexus personality. In eect, this attribute has a ninety percent value
of importance over other attributes for Lexus car front-end design.
Although there is agreement between American and Japanese re-
spondents about the front-end design image that best portrays the
Lexus personality, what Japanese respondents assess most sensitive
is not the lamp position, but the lens angle of the headlight (Figure
4a-4b). They also give considerable importance of 41.4% in eye an-
gle in human facial features for the Lexus personality (Figure 4-a).
Another consistency found between human and car facial features
is the eye angle, which refers to the lens angle in front-end design,
for the Scion personality among Japanese audience. The analysis
indicates that Japanese respondents recognize slant eyes as a strong
positive factor for the Scion personality shown by the substantial
importance rate of 81.1% (Figure 6-a). The same reaction appears
on car front design, too, where they value slant lens as a strong
positive factor for the personality with signicant importance of
71.1% (Figure 6-b).
Americans and Japanese dier considerably in human face per-
ception of the intended Lexus personality. The representation of
resolute, intelligent and admirable, selected by American respondent
looks sharper than the one selected by Japanese respondent. The
actual dierence between these two faces are eye features, where
the face selected by American respondent has so called “sanpaku”
eyes, which refers to the iris being small and near to top of the eye
so that it can only cover about two-thirds or less of the vertical of
the eye[Ohsawa and Aihara 1971]. Japanese respondents showed
a contrasting reaction to “sanpaku” eyes as the analysis indicates
strong negative partial utility for the intended personality. Another
dierence is the face selected by American respondents has narrow
and slant eyes as opposed to the one selected by Japanese has curved
and neutral angled eyes. Similar perception dierences repeatedly
appeared also for Toyota and Scion personalities. The best repre-
sentation images for Americans tended to have more slant eyes or
slant lenses, as opposed to the Japanese respondents whose prefer-
ences tended to have less slant, non-“sanpaku” or larger irises that
make the overall facial impression softer. When comparing only car
front-end design attributes, American respondents consistently pay
more attentions to either lamp position or lamp size. In contrast,
Japanese respondents tend to be sensitive about lens angles.
Although the study was experimental and was not intended to
serve directly to any specic new vehicle design, the analysis was
shared within the company’s design center, as well as top exec-
utives. Several other studies that attempt to dene more specic
design languages and executions regarding facial expressions in
car front-end designs, followed this study, and were applied to the
design guidelines. As a luxury car brand, Lexus face continues to
maintain a resolute, intelligent and admirable persona, expressed
by appropriately slanted lenses and carefully located lamps and
a subtle smile. As Toyota personality evolves, slanted, low-prole
lenses and a smiley mouth portray a sharper or more serious look
while upholding an relaxed personality. Scion has horizontal and
static design attributes that support the strong attitude of the brand
(Figure 7).
7th International Conference on Design and Emotion 2010
4Sano
Fig. 3. Best human and car facial representations that communicate the intended personalities for each brand.
Fig. 4. Partial utilities and importance in individual aributes for human face(le:4-a) and car front design(right:4-b) for Lexus trait.
Fig. 5. Partial utilities and importance in individual aributes for human face(le:5-a) and car front design(right:5-b) for Toyota trait.
7th International Conference on Design and Emotion 2010
Facial Expressions in Car Design 5
Fig. 6. Partial utilities and importance in individual aributes for human face (le:6-a) and car front design (right:6-b) for Scion trait.
Fig. 7. Typical Lexus, Toyota, Scion faces today.
5 CONCLUSION
Facial expression is highly emotional and even small changes could
radically alter the impression of the car. Like human relations, per-
ception is highly context sensitive. A condent look could be mis-
taken as arrogance, or a friendly smile considered to be a frivolous
face. Other limitations of this study include: 1) The number of at-
tributes is limited so that some other attributes that were not tested
may have greater contribution to create certain facial expressions.
2) Limited sample size and sensitive population in Japanese respon-
dents. 3) There may be nuances in English-Japanese translation
for the adjectives that describe the characteristics of aimed brand
personality. 4) Respondents may feel forced to evaluate attributes
they would otherwise not much thought about.
The study attempts to isolate the design attributes of car front-
end design and identify the most eective expressions that collec-
tively form overall facial features of the car by introducing conjoint
analysis, which have traditionally been used for marketing initia-
tives. The analysis unveiled certain attributes that are signicantly
more sensitive than others to create either negative or positive
emotional reactions from customers. There seems to be percep-
tion dierences caused by cultural factors and design directions
may need to vary geographically. Since facial perception is highly
emotional and context-sensitive, further study should explore such
variables. As automotive technologies rapidly change, the concept
of functional elements of cars, such as headlights, radiator grills and
air intake are likely to change signicantly. Further facial expression
study needs to respond to those changes as well.
6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The author would like to express thanks to Calty Design Research
and Toyota Motor Corporation for their permission to use this
archived material for the design case.
REFERENCES
Toshinobu Harada and Norihiko Mori. 1998. Analysis of Recognition of Car’s Front
View Design. Bulletin of Japanese Society for Science of Design 45, 2 (1998), 11–16.
https://doi.org/10.11247/jssdj.45.11_2
George Ohsawa and Herman Aihara. 1971. Macrobiotics: an invitation to health and
happiness. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic.
Daniel H Pink. 2006. A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Penguin.
7th International Conference on Design and Emotion 2010
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Article
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Analysis of Recognition of Car's Front View Design
  • Toshinobu Harada
  • Norihiko Mori
Toshinobu Harada and Norihiko Mori. 1998. Analysis of Recognition of Car's Front View Design. Bulletin of Japanese Society for Science of Design 45, 2 (1998), 11-16. https://doi.org/10.11247/jssdj.45.11_2