General Motors Corporation. "Oscar" car design template. 1950s

Plastic and metal, 45 9/16 × 49 7/8" (115.7 × 126.7 cm). Committee on Architecture and Design Funds

Hampton Wayt: My name is Hampton Wayt, I'm an industrial design historian.

Oscar is a male human template that was used by General Motors Corporation to design the interiors of automobiles in the 1950s. It was claimed that he was modeled after the average human male, although there doesn't seem to be any record of how General Motors determined what was considered average. One of the things I really love about Oscar is if you look at his head, you'll see that he's wearing a hat, which of course was commonplace for men in the 1950s. In fact, the automobile roofs at the time were specifically designed to allow men to enter the car without knocking their hat off, so they had to be a certain height.

Automobile design is a very rationalized process. Let's just imagine for a moment that we're designing a car from scratch. The process would begin with the designer receiving a basic engineering layout, so they would know what the chassis looked like, and the basic overall length of the car and the height of the car, perhaps. From there, the designers would create a diverse range of drawings in hopes of establishing the car's theme.

The interior is probably the most difficult part of designing an automobile because it actually does work with a lot of very strict factors: where the dashboard is, the relationship of the steering wheel to the front seats, getting the right angles. So Oscar was a very important part of that process of ergonomics, human factors engineering is what they would have called it. The exterior of the car may make you want to go buy the car, may bring you into the showroom, but the interior is the most important part ultimately, because that's where you're spending all your time. And if it's not comfortable, if it's too tight, it doesn't function right, the automobile cannot be successful.

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