Photo: Motorhomes (Wikipedia)

Thirty-odd years ago, some design hack drew a bunch of brown swooshes on the side of an RV in a move that would forever change the look of interstates and campgrounds everywhere. Overnight, the entire industry apparently decided that this was peak RV design and that no new designs would be needed aside from slight variations in swoosh size and color.

There are some RVs and travel trailers that are absent the swooshes, like Airstreams or the plain color of some Sprinter RVs, but these are usually expensive alternatives. You apparently have to pay more for less in the graphics department. Aside from these few exceptions, almost all RVs and travel trailers have the same style of, ahem, “artwork.” Light brown or off-white backgrounds with swooshes that are brown and grey are drawn by graphic designers whose dreams died long ago. Occasionally some intrepid designer will absolutely shatter the mold by adding a red or blue swoosh in with the browns and greys.

Photo: Ildar Sagdejev (Wikipedia)

Are the swooshes better than the boring straight lines that preceded them? Nope. The straight lines are simple designs that break up the large, plain side of an RV. The swoopy designs do the same, but they communicate a sense of dynamics, of movement and action. They’re pretending to be more interesting than straight lines when, after decades of swooshes, they are the least possible interesting design. Less appealing now than even simple straight lines.

Less attractive than nothing at all.

Photo: Getty

Our sister blog, Jezebel, investigated this a few months ago and it seems like manufacturers don’t really have a good reason for the swooshes. Chris Barth, the Senior Director of Product Development at the RV manufacturer Jayco said, “Nobody understands the swooshes and the sweeps on the outside,” adding, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

It could be that RV buyers are just not very interesting on average, but I’ve seen some pretty interesting things done in and around RVs at auto races and festivals, so there’s definitely a market segment. I’ve also seen interesting “aftermarket” RV designs, often done by talented artists with spray paint.


This is probably the best path to de-boring-ify your RV; you’re driving around a giant canvas, it’s a perfect opportunity to add some art to the world. If you’re like me and have the artistic skills of a small child, maybe hire an artist. If you have a cheaper RV, it might be hard to justify spending a lot of money to fix your painfully ugly swooshified RV. The good news is that basically any change is an improvement, if only to give it some personality.

Photo: PunkToad (Flickr)

You could park it under an overpass and let Kerk and Zane (?) graffiti their names on it and that would be an improvement. Give some cans of spray paint to a bunch of teenagers and let them draw dicks all over it. Slight improvement. Set it on fire. Really just anything but swooshes.

Photo: Mark Holloway (Flickr)

Matt Brown is an automotive engineer, writer, and builder of unconventional things. Mostly vehicles.

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