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Architecture + Branding: Honda deftly drives home cohesive aesthetic

1-Rediscovering priorities

The financial crisis in 2008-2009 that thrust many industries into a tailspin and many consumers to the brink was unkind to the automotive business. At the height of the financial crisis, Honda embarked on a radical cost-cutting plan which acquired the acronym D.I.S.C. (Does It Sell Cars?). The culling would be wide-ranging. No sacred cows would be spared, not racing, not advertising, not sponsorship, not product development. If the activity did not clearly contribute to the stated objective, it would be vulnerable.

Nonetheless, Honda does not solely manufacture automobiles, it is a diversified company involved in many areas including motorcycles, scooters, power equipment and more recently, corporate jet aircrafts. However, Honda’s automotive business remains the most recognizable and visible part of the organization.

2-Divide and specialize

Diversified as Honda is, it is set up with many divisions, each existing under the parent Honda moniker, but specializing in a very specific niche. Honda Cars, Honda Motorcycles, Honda Marine, Honda Engine, Honda Power Equipment, Honda racing, even Honda’s premium brand, Acura, exist separate and apart, and carry their own unique identities. It is worth nothing that in some markets Acura’s presence is non-existent and the models are branded as Honda (Honda Legend/Acura 3.7RL).

Historically, all have had a common thread to the parent brand, a consistent colour, red, similar typeface, and stacked block logos for parent and segment. The cohesive colours and text styles help to craft a visual identity for all brand segments and reinforce the brand position.

Only the more recently launched Honda Jet has deviated from this order for a singular type and a blue colour, admittedly more in line with blue sky travel.

3-United colours

Auto manufacturers are known for having design cues that carry through entire model lines from grilles, window details, sheet metal kinks, that serve to unify and create a family/brand look to their vehicles that is instantly recognizable. In Honda’s case, one could make an argument that it carries all the way into the architectural design.

Honda Car Dealership, Boulevard des Sources, Dollards-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Honda Car Dealership, Boulevard des Sources, Dollards-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Honda Car Dealership, Boulevard des Sources, Dollards-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Honda dealerships are, from a design standpoint, subdued, un-hurried and unaffected by fads and trends, very clean and clutter free. Stressing balance, they are in many ways very Japanese in their approach to positive and negative space. From a maintenance standpoint, the choice of white for the exterior is somewhat impractical, and will require additional upkeep and cleaning to retain the crisp and clean white hue. Yet, it also lends a lightness to the building, and assists in blending quietly into the surroundings.

Honda Car Dealership, Bank Street South near Hunt Club Road, Ottawa, Ontario

The showroom seldom seems overpowering or overbearing. Much like visual art galleries, the unadorned and inconspicuous showroom exists to showcase the product and not draw unwarranted attention towards the surroundings. The blockish, sometimes cube like dealership structure remains low-key, usually finished with long wearing metal cladding without visible fasteners lending a very sleek look or a combination of metal and concrete, never commands attention from the product while lending an aura of solidity and seriousness consistent with the purchase decisions beholden within.

Honda Car Dealership, Carling Avenue near Preston Street, Ottawa, Ontario

Honda Car Dealership, Carling Avenue near Preston Street, Ottawa, Ontario

Like any functional automobile dealership, large doors and drive ramps are present for vehicle showroom access, but consumers would be hard pressed to mistaken one of these access points for the main entry. Honda dealerships are characteristically ascribed a cylindrical form, highlighting the main showroom entrance. The cylinder form, pronounced though at times quite softened, makes the focal entry point clearly identifiable. This simple orientation aids in creating a calming aura upon arrival as nothing is more frustrating than circling around a building trying to find the front entrance.

Honda Car Dealership, Boulevard St-Joseph near Freeman, Gatineau, Quebec

Honda Car Dealership, Boulevard St-Joseph near Freeman, Gatineau, Quebec

Oddly though, the main entrance is almost never centered in the front façade. Asymmetrical on purpose, the Honda name is customarily spelled out on the shorter side, omitting the logo altogether. This approach, with limited signage, is very clean, clutter free, simple, and remarkably effective in setting an inviting tone to draw consumers and prospective buyers inside.

These general design cues are repeated across dealerships, whereby the white tone is complemented by a bright red in Canada (Honda Canada), and substituted by lighter greys and beige base colors combined with a soft blue in the United States (American Honda Corporation).

Honda Car Dealership, Henry Clay Boulevard, Clay, New York

American Honda Corporation’s approach, complete with an additional ornamental wave, physically and visually anchors the opposing ends of the dealership façade, also imbuing a whimsical sensibility.

Honda Car Dealership, Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York

Honda Car Dealership, Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York

4-Enterprise scalability

Borrowing a term from the computer industry, Honda’s design approach to dealerships is endowed with “enterprise scalability”. These repeatable cues function in multiple locales, from tight urban lots to sprawling suburban sites, they are both versatile and adaptable.

Honda Car Dealership, St Laurent Boulevard near Ogilvie, Ottawa, Ontario

Stretched over several bays, or constricted to a narrow site, the design is inherently flexible and can respond as needed. Establishing the off-centre entrance component as the main focal point, the remaining elements fall into place on either side, instantly benefiting from a common identifiable lineage.

Honda Car Dealership, Mapleview near Highway 400, Barrie, Ontario

Another essential brand element, the stylized flared Honda “H” logo, resides practically exclusively on the foremost pylon sign. Wholly ingrained in the overall identity, the pylon sign is also used in sales brochures and newsprint advertising campaigns.

Honda Car Dealership, Oxford Street West near Wonderland Road, London, Ontario

5-Unified aesthetic

Honda, as well as the dealer body benefits from the unified aesthetic, singular look approach. Clean, consistent, cohesive, the architectural identity reinforces the brand message and in effect, gives a sense of unity to the ownership experience. Optimistically,  a sense of attachment may develop, whereby every Honda dealership looks like “their” Honda dealership, instilling a comfort level for consumers.

Consistently presenting a common front for the brand, the dealerships serve as the face of the company, the touch points, and the way in which the majority of consumers will develop with and experience the brand. Whether or not Honda has found their automotive mojo after having been lost in the proverbial dark for several years is a discussion better left to automotive scribes and Honda’s brand fans.

2013 Honda Accord sedan model (source: http://www.honda.ca)

2013 Honda Accord sedan model (source: http://www.honda.ca)

Notwithstanding, the unified aesthetic approach, in red or blue, will continue to serve Honda in countless ways to focus attention on the product, draw in curious shoppers, and establish a level of seriousness and stability for the task at hand.


All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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