Our Insight List is designed to keep us on our toes and you in the loop, on a regular basis. Our
Quarterly Insights is sent to our clients and friends four times a year. Our Show Insights provide
in-depth reports from the major International Auto Shows.
Designing with provenance
Think of a car brand - Ferrari, Mini, BMW, Cadillac, Volvo. Our first association with these brands is cars (obviously!). Then we think of the types of cars these brands make and we also think of their nationality: Italian, British, German, American, Swedish respectively. The provenance of car brands is, with some exceptions, one of the first associations people make — even those who know little about cars (actually, disproportionately so for people who know little about cars, but that’s another story…). And the primary association of national identity then brings with it a whole realm of secondary associations to the car brand which mostly add significant value to the brand, particularly for customers in export markets. So for Ferrari we think of Italy and then we think of various Italian associations such as being emotional and expressive, and being focused on the artisan side of design — and these secondary associations then connect back to Ferrari, further enriching the brand. With Bentley people think of various British associations such as the heritage that sits within ‘Rule, Britannia’ and monarchy, or being hand-made with fine natural materials — and these secondary associations then connect back to Bentley, further enriching the brand.
In car design the western world has become accustomed to looking to the east for new markets with demanding customers who hunger for the latest and most advanced designs. But how long might China remain the most interesting market? Might not other BRIC territories rightly demanded our attention as they grow in commercial significance and as their people assert new requirements of the car? And could Africa, with South Africa now the “S” in BRICS, be at the forefront of this new focus — a region that in other product sectors, such as telecommunications and energy, has already ‘leap-frogged’ incumbent ways of doing things as it develops so fast and with so little inertia? We think that Africa is one of the most overlooked and most interesting car markets, and the one with the most scope to change fast and even leapfrog today’s leaders in developed countries.
Why the driverless-car is being hobbled by science fiction
The idea of the driverless-car, the autonomous car, is omnipresent today in the automotive industry. Conferences live by it. Suppliers toil to make the cleverness in it. Government bodies fund research into it. And car companies excite us with it. At last month’s Frankfurt Auto Show there were many concept cars, such as the svelte Audi Aicon, presented as being autonomous. Normally these autonomous concept cars are mono-space forms with large wheels pushed to the corners and are shown zooming on highways with earnest thirty-somethings facing one another, tablet in hand, and this vision has now perhaps become the established automotive cliche of the twenty-teens.
In reality the autonomous car is decades away from being realised in anything approaching such forms or application. Cliche or otherwise, these typically appealing but superficial designs, and the way they are presented, are misleading in how they define our wider understanding of what the driverless car will be — and thus are hobbling the collective advancement of the autonomous car. And in a small way we have science fiction to thank for this.
What is the future of the (fully) autonomous car interior? Last week I spoke at the autonomous vehicle interior design & technology symposium in Stuttgart, as part of the Automotive Interiors Expo 2017.
Although the conference usefully highlighted a candid belief from across the industry that full, Level-5 autonomous vehicles aren’t going to become a mainstream proposition until probably sometime in the 2040s, getting there is a challenge for here and now. And as designers we are going to play a huge role in how successful autonomous cars are, and what kind of experiences they offer, by painting visions of this future world.
In October last year, I bought a BMW i3. The pure electric version, to be precise. Six months on, I’m presenting here a series of thoughts — design challenges, both big and small, that EV usership and ownership creates. While partly driven by the specifics of the i3’s design, these are bigger picture issues, representative of electric cars generally. They warrant addressing if the industry is serious about large scale market adoption of EVs.
While nobody can be certain of the future of the automobile, it seems fairly clear now that the rise of ride hailing, ride sharing, EVs, and autonomous vehicles is not likely to wane and will likely change everything about the industry — and possibly of our lives, cities, and infrastructure too. Autonomous EVs now make up the majority of concepts at the major auto shows and billions of dollars, euro and yuan are being poured into making it happen. But one of the biggest changes that will happen comes from the how we interact with the use of the car in a broader context than simply fold-away steering wheels or giant infotainment screens.
It’s a small detail. It’s just a button. And a knob. Used to flip from the radio to Spotify, or the music on your phone. Or simply turn the volume up and down. And yet driving the new Volkswagen Golf (Mk 7.5) the other week, emphasised a view that we’ve held for some time now, that this small part is a critically important part of the current in-car user experience.