Last night I was at the Southeast’s fifth-most popular taillight-themed bar, The Scarlet Bulb, when things started to take a strange, almost ominous turn. “Something’s happening,” slurred the old, drunk guy next to me, a former, now disgraced, taillight designer for a major OEM. A woman approached and flung the old guy heavily to the floor, taking his seat. “He’s an asshole, but he’s right. Something is happening.” Even more ominous was that I agreed with them. Something is happening in taillight design, and it’s time we talked about it.
One of the reasons I hang out in taillight bars at all (beyond the fact that most bars and restaurants have forbidden me to discuss vehicle lighting in them anymore, just because some fancy-pants customers don’t like being scream-lectured at regarding amber rear turn indicators, it seems) is so that I can be ready to spot upcoming taillight trends in their somewhat early stages, before they become completely mainstream.
And I think we’re at that point now in taillight design, as there is a clear new trend emerging: the technosquiggle.
It’s been percolating around for a while, the result of newfound freedoms of design from LEDs and new, more effective plastic light diffuser techniques.
The technosquiggle is a design element that turns the main running light part of a taillight — the red “taillight” itself, sometimes incorporating the brake light, too — into a sort of linear shape that is like a simple, calligraphic squiggle, but with curves replaced by more geometric sort of angled lines that lend a certain high-tech look, derived from (I think) the way metal traces look on a circuit board.
The BMW lights have “three-dimensional sculpting” which just means the plastic housing is formed so that the technosquiggle is sort of extruded, and juts out above the turn indicator and reverse lamp chambers, which nestle in the recesses of the technosquiggle tail/brake lamp.
Lotus’ approach has a sort of neon-sign type effect going on, with a simple squiggle that resembles a partially-straightened paper clip or the Egyptian feather hieroglyph, rotated sideways.
I’m seeing this general design concept, rendered in a variety of different forms and thicknesses and styles, but all still very much techy-looking squiggly, open linear forms, often enough and on a wide enough variety of cars, hailing from all over the world, that I think we can call it a trend.
Carmakers have been obliquely referring to this sort of bold lighting design with terms like “lighting signature,” but it’s relevant to note that of all these new “lighting signatures” we’re not seeing many clusters of orbs or grids of lights or big flat swaths of color, but we are seeing a lot of generally thin, sweeping linear forms.
I think we can maybe peg the start of this all the way back to the 2016 Toyota Prius re-design, which I feel has a really overdone design language I was calling Cybaroque, and included taillights that looked like this:
I never thought they looked particularly good, but I do think these may be the first mainstream example of a technosquiggle taillight design.
It’s a thing. It’s a thing that’s happening, and it’s healthy to acknowledge it.
Is this just a modern interpretation of the old ’80s and ’90s Solo cup-type brushy squiggle, mated with an electronics aesthetic, and destined to become our era’s Altezza taillights?
Maybe? Maybe not. It’s too soon to say. For now, I’m excited to just see a movement really take off, and I’m curious to see how far it goes.