Honda Superhawk CB77

Imitation And Originality


I mentioned a little while ago that design is fashion. What I meant was the psychology of fashion that is the mental process that takes place among consumers when they see somebody doing a different thing, they also want to do so. Man has either talents of originality and imitation: Originality is to create a unique thing as it means literally, and imitation tends to create fashion. Yet, the tendency of popular imitation is not always undesirable for us. Due to the law of imitation, factories can run for a long period of time producing the same products. If we are required only originality, we shall have to change models all the time in disregard of profit. Take signboards for example; if everyone displayed his originality in the full capacity, the whole view of a city would be extremely squalid. Also take a look at costumes such as Northern European, Russian, Italian, and so forth. All of these have different rhythms with certain harmony. Therefore, I think we ought not to make light of public imitation. Furthermore, we have to take advantage of it. As imitation creates fashion, it is our livelihood.

As to say from the producers standpoint is out of the question whether we can imitate or not. It is a matter of course that we have to pursue the originality to the utmost. The originality should also not be expressed in form [that] is too far beyond the public imitating ability, otherwise they will not buy. We have to keep drawing public interest by a very slight yet critical originality. This is the very point of difficulty that commercial designing faces.

When I was a child, in 1923, Chrysler produced a very unique car named "Air-Flow" that looked like a beetle. In spite of the large attention of public it drew, the car was not sold as well as expected. Some years ago Studebaker also displayed a unique, avant-garde car with low ground height, and it was also [acclaimed] by industrial designers and producers. However, the sales record of this car was unexpectedly low and the Studebaker company went bankrupt as a result. The bad sales record caused the company to unite with Nash company. As for this year's Buick, the maker was unhappy because of the consumers’ fickleness for the car was not sold as its bright prospect. This, I suppose, may also be caused by the fact that producers went too far from the public idea. Design of merchandise is decided and advanced delicately by putting the originality step by step after ascertaining the law of imitation of the public.

If originality is like painting, it can go only by originality and that is what painting should be. But producing merchandise is a different story. They say the pictures of Van Gogh were not recognized until his death: yet as far as businesses are concerned if the merchandise were recognized one or two decades after they were lined off, the business could not stand successfully.

I think it is well known that the design of our motorcycle is composed of Japanese sense [that] you can find in Japanese Shrines and Buddhism Temples. Before I started the designing I had been to Nara and Kyoto for about ten days in order to get the spirit and essence of design. If we apply the feeling of Shrines and Temples as [it] really is, the result would naturally be anachronistic. But if we see these historical designs through the screen of modern eyes, there are several excellent points to be applied to modern design. For example, the beauty of the line from the eyebrow to the bridge of the nose of Buddha is so remarkable that such a beautiful line does not seem to be in existence anywhere else. I designed the fuel tank edge-line having the line of the Buddha image in my mind. The knee-grip was tried to express a soft feeling by using a somber finish. The Benly was designed in order to give the friendly and easy feeling by perceiving the idea of a private house of rustic work in the villages around the Rokko mountains.

At any rate, the design of the motor vehicle must be a symphony appreciated visually. As the symphony would be unbalanced by only a single unordinary tone of the trombone, the design must be considered one by one without breaking the balance, such as tires, steering handle, and others. Moreover, each part within the balance has to express its respective unique design. This is of the most importance.


Soichiro Honda
December, 1961 

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