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Vehicle Graphics & Changing Trends

The times, they are a-changin'. The sign industry evolves. Trends in graphic design differ from decade to decade.

LA Times Delivery Wagon - 1901This holds true in the history of vehicle graphics, from the days of horse-drawn delivery wagons, through the early 1900's as carriage decorators moved from pinstriping wagon wheels to pinstriping assembly-line Fords, up into the explosive visuals of the 21st century. Nothing has been static. One thing that businesses, small and large, have long perceived is the value of seeing the side of a service vehicle as a traveling billboard. With that in mind, the need not only to convey information but to stand out from the crowd has always been paramount.Hand lettering a gas service truck

There was a time when, by painting a large pictorial on the side of a truck or applying a unique airbrush technique I could immediately give a vehicle a visual advantage over other vehicles, simply because that was an uncommon sight. Interestingly in the past few years with the rapid advances in large format digital imaging and printable vinyls which conform to uneven contours, the sight of a "vehicle wrap" - a car, van or truck completely covered with an image - has become a bit banal. The competitive edge is diminished when the visual novelty fades to the norm.

Vochol - VW decorated by Huichol artisansI got to thinking about that recently when I ran across some photos of a vehicle graphic, with an accompanying video from the Smithsonian. Of course, the intent is neither advertising nor a functional car but rather a form of art celebrating the culture of the Huichol people. But, in a sense, it's a more sophisticated version of a vehicle wrap using ancient tribal art with 2,277,000 meticulously placed glass beads. With its brilliant colors, organic form and textures, it clearly stands out from the crowd. Considering the cost of labor and the fact that it took 4,760 hours to complete, this is a indeed a Volkswagen on a Cadillac budget!

Now the fact of the matter is that I don't do vehicle wraps. The plethora of sign shops which have become virtual print houses are quite proficient at churning out this type of vehicle graphic advertising - some of them uniquely creative and many of them just mediocre contributions to our shared visual noise. But I wonder, taking a cue from the Huichol handiwork: is there a way to tap into the old techniques which are being smothered in our digital age to help a client stand out in a unique and more "rooted" fashion? Well, I'm just thinking out loud and will see what percolates. If you have any thoughts, let's hear them!

I was disappointed when I realized that I had passed through Denver International Airport twice while the Volchol was on display there and I completely missed it. But thankfully there are photos and videos to enable us share the experience. Enjoy it this short video . . . 

Reader Comments (4)

Nice. It will be interesting to see what kind of price it brings.

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Hi Bill,
Thanks for your comment. The uniqueness and beauty of the Vochol just got me thinking about ways I could bring my own uniqueness to a client's vehicle in the midst of all the vehicle wraps on the street.
However you bring up a curious point about what it would actually sell for!
My understanding is that it's a work of art done by the Huichol tribe to celebrate their heritage, and it is traveling on display to a number of venues such as museums. I assume there must have been some type of grant to fund the project originally and I don't know where the final destination will be or if there will be a "buyer".

December 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Seese

Creative Review did an interesting article on Taxi art, which is all hand cut and applied from vinyl.

This tradition has been around in an attempt to have their taxi stand out and grab attention.


January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack H

What a fascinating article!
I read the article and then also watched the video where the father/son artist team was interviewed and you could also watch them as they plied their craft. These are true craftsmen. The time they put into hand cutting each element, the intricacy of the decoration, the rudimentary working conditions - all resulting in such a unique look. It really puts me to shame when I think of all the resources I have at my fingertips.
I found interesting the final words the younger artist spoke in the interview - "You have to keep in mind the medium and fit your design to it. It should be visible and not gaudy at the same time."
Though exactly how that looks will vary in different cultures, I think the maxim holds true in all times and all places.

January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Seese

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