Arguably the VW camper vans, vans and busses are not the greatest in terms of design – technically and asthetically (I like them!). Perhaps judgement of this is sometimes based on just what a person is used to, or expecting to see.
The fact remains, they are still very popular amongst those people that can use such vehicles and amongst collectors. It is hard not to get swept into the raw enthusiasm of people still in love with the VW campers and vans. For some reason they are just ‘cool’. Why is that I wonder? As a design, to many it would leave a lot to be desired – but there is a certain something about them.
I think when you look at one of these camper vehicles, you don’t just ‘see’ the rectangular box shape, or consider all the technical failings – you outwardly see a certain style, but you also ‘see’ character, and life in it. A VW Beetle is a more interesting shape and design than the VW campers which are, lets be honest, not very aero-dynamic or ‘sleek’ – but it just doesn’t matter. Perhaps it is that something which is labelled an icon and is simply ‘cool’ is because it’s not just about the asthetics but also an un-seen connection, affinity, appreciation, understanding – feeling. It doesn’t look like it should go fast, and it doesn’t – therefore it’s not trying to say something by design that it’s not. It’s ‘honest’.
Of course, in the case of the VW Beetle many people gave them ‘characters’ and connected with them that way – and the film industry took that further with the Herbie films, where the car had a heart and character of its own. Things like this will help to make something ‘stick’ for longer. I think the character aspect can be extended to the vans and campers too. The design helps make this happen making it easier to imagine, perhaps, a face on the front of the vehicle with a bit of personal creativity. Maybe this is another aspect – a design which is easily open for further creative thought and imagination around it.
When many share the same feelings this is part of what makes an icon – or makes something cool. Design is part of this, the outward appearance being the immediate, visible association with the feelings. When this happens, perhaps the design itself doesn’t even need to be clever or good to be accepted, or become classic, or make ‘retro’ become classic. There is no real ‘rule’ – design can follow emotion as much as emotions can follow design, it just depends.