What We Do

We help our clients to create more successful designs

CDR works closely with clients developing design strategies to define their brand, to maximise the commercial potential of a portfolio of products, and to help them build design leadership in a specific area.  

We also support their work with useful information about customers and competitors, reliably showing them how they are perceived in the market, and making them aware of relevant trends in and outside of the industry.

Above all we work with, not just for, our clients.


An outside view

Getting a robust view on how your brand and design is perceived in the market can be difficult, but it is vital to know where you are before you plan where to go.  

Informed by our unique international network of associates, CDR perception projects provide an authoritative perspective on our clients’ ‘status quo’.  As a design orientated team we pride ourselves in getting subtle but useful perspectives from customers on how clients’ designs are read in a way that traditional consumer research agencies can’t.

My smartphone is better than your car

User attitudes to the in-car interface in a smartphone world

Our automotive OEM client could see consumers’ attitudes to in-car technology changing. The client suspected that they were losing ownership of much of the in-car HMI experience with the growth of in-car smartphone use for locations-specific services.

CDR was asked to investigate consumers’ use of, and attitudes to, in-car HMI systems and smartphones and how these impacted on their wider journey experience.

We conducted research with a wide selection of consumers, filming them as they used their in-car HMI and smartphones. Through the users’ own descriptions of their experience we were able to establish underlying user attitudes and preferences regarding a spectrum of in-car HMI types.

Contextualising this information with emergent smartphone based services, CDR presented a series of new types of in-car behavior. This created opportunities for the client to respond with better in-car user experience and a road-map for on-going development in this fast-changing area.

Do you like my face?

Understanding the true meaning behind a premium brand’s current facial identity

The brand had a very well established graphical facial identity. But they didn’t reliably know what meaning the car-buying public read into this and why.

They asked us: is our face distinctive enough? Consistent enough? Premium enough? What other meanings does our face convey?

Car Design Research analysed the brand’s current facial identity – charting its development relative to competitors, conducting consumer research and then taking two of the company’s current cars and visiting leading independent car designers to conduct one-on-one filmed interviews with them.

This process enabled a robust explanation of how the design was creating the meaning consumers read into the cars’ facial identity. It also enabled us to advise how this might be changed to create a stronger, different identity in the future.


Understanding the world

With intelligence projects we explore best practice, highlight ‘white-space’ opportunities and project future developments – and then describe the likely implications of these for design.

We also get ‘under the skin’ of specific profiles of customer – such as the twenty-something luxury car buyers of Shanghai, or the new types of family car buyers in northern Europe – and bring them to life in films and visually rich presentations that are taken into the client studio.

Why's that car so popular?

When a new product became a surprise market hit, a competitor wanted to know what they could learn

The Product Planning group of a major OEM was all too aware of a new type of car from a competitor that had been an instant sales success. The product had come from nowhere, so they asked why and how was it resonating with consumers?

CDR conducted research in many countries with a wide spectrum of consumers who owned this class of car, filming them with the new car in question. Our research approach saw consumers articulate the core elements of the design that contributed to its strong appeal in a way that was significantly more insightful for both marketing and design than traditional focus group-style consumer research.

We then used a variety of graphical tools to convey the different perspectives on why this new design was successful and what learning could be taken from this. We also presented short film clips to the client’s wider team, to eloquently paint a picture of their target customer.

Understanding the young Chinese

What are the attitudes of the young rich in China when it comes to luxury car interiors

What are the underlying attitudes of young consumers in Chinese Tier 1 cities towards luxury goods, our client asked? How does their attitude towards their cars differ to that of consumers in the US or Europe?  And how are they using their car interiors differently?

Working on-the-ground with our local research partner in China, a number of young Chinese consumers were interviewed one-on-one. We started in an informal yet high-design setting, talking about experience, image and objects. Interviewing them first in a neutral setting, we then got into their luxury cars, to talk about the importance of the car to an individual’s image in China.

The result was a series of design-relevant insights into Chinese consumers’ attitudes, desires and perceptions around luxury, interior design and HMI technologies presented as a series of short film stories.

Can functional be emotional?

Uncovering the hidden emotional consumer benefits of functional attributes

What could the relationship between functionality and fashion be based upon in the car? What emotive benefits do functional features in a car provide? And how can learning from this then be connected back to the aesthetic, fashionable aspect of design? Those were the questions the design team of this client posed our team.

Instead of spending a lot of time with consumers in their cars to discover how they use them, CDR came up with an alternative way of looking at the values of functionality.  We used different schools of psychology to inform ethnographic research in the home and then the car with various different profiles of consumer.  

The results illustrated several emotive qualities of ‘functional’, which had direct relevance to automotive contexts.  CDR then showed the ways that these could be connected to typology, features and aesthetic.


Roadmaps for the future

We’ve spent over fifteen years working on the umbrella design and brand strategies for car companies, working hand-in-hand with directors and their teams.

Our strategic work helping clients establish their future brand, product or design direction steps off from our vast experience of analysing the emotive and complex relationship between the user and the car.  We then take this strategic intent and help our clients to ‘sell’ this upwards and downwards into their organisation.

How SUV should our Crossover be?

As the compact Crossover market grows rapidly, how do you develop a robust positioning strategy for a new product?

The compact SUV’s conceptual design is like shifting sand. The identity and proportions of the sector have moved in a short period of time.

Our Chinese client saw this change and the rapid growth of the sector happening in all markets. They had an internal view on where they should go with their new product – but they wanted an external view to check against and respond to.

Using our wider network across the United States, China, Europe, Brazil, Russia and India, looking at trends in adjacent sectors and extrapolating other influences on the consumer and the sector we worked with the client team to develop a more robust direction for their product. We then helped develop a strategy for how it should fit within a wider, future range of SUVs from the brand.

Volvo’s future identity

In a changing market, how should Volvo be distinct and grow its customer base?

Volvo knew that the market had changed for its international mix of customers and that it hadn’t fully responded to this yet. It knew it had equity in its history and was well recognized by consumers, but wanted to know what its future brand strategy should be.

“How are we perceived today?”, they asked us. “What makes us ‘Volvo’, and how can some of this be translated into a relevant and positive proposition for new customers?”

Car Design Research worked closely with the client team to develop future directions for the brand – using our extended network, not only in Europe but also Asia and the US, to understand the very different ways in which the Volvo brand was perceived in each territory.

We we then developed future product portfolio and design strategy options based on this brand strategy for the client to take forward internally.

Take our PQ premium

Developing a Perceived Quality (PQ) strategy to help a mainstream manufacturer move into the ‘premium’ space

The client had seen strong sales growth during the past decade, but wanted to become competitive with the premium German brands and knew that one aspect of doing this was improving Perceived Quality (PQ).

We were tasked with developing an internal Perceived Quality handbook that Design, Quality and Engineering groups could use – a document that would describe the value of PQ from a customer perspective as well as creating a brand-specific concept of PQ.  

Car Design Research worked with a spectrum of PQ professionals from inside and outside of the automotive sector, and closely with the client team, to redefine PQ for the company internally – moving this to the idea of ‘perceived premium’. The internal assessment and scoring tool we developed mirrored the consumer’s approach to assessing how ‘premium’ each car is in a showroom environment.


Telling better stories

There are often rich and exciting stories within car designs, but it is rare that they extend fully into the spaces, experiences and media that surround them.  

Our core team and wider network have extensive experience curating car and design related events and communicating in print, online and social media in the technology, design and automotive fields.  So as well as working in and around the subtle meanings of design within the industry, we are well versed in disseminating this to the outside world.

Telling stories to Audi customers

Realising the value of car design for Audi UK VIP customers

Audi UK regularly treated their VIP customers – including rock stars, celebrities and sports men and women – to experience days at racetracks. But the client team realised that as well as experiencing the drive, there was a design story to tell – but it wasn’t being told.

As part of these experience days, CDR’s team was engaged to tell the design stories of Audi’s products in a fun – yet informative – way. Presenting the cars in person, we decoded the designs, helping the VIPs to articulate why they like one car better than another – or why some car design just looks right.

What can we learn from car design?

Informing a B-2-B bluechip how car design works.

Car Design Research predominantly works for the Design Groups of Automotive OEMs on projects that advance their design success, sometimes through developing their processes.  In this case our client was a large financial services organisation undergoing a restructure. Having observed that car design uniquely harnessed creativity within a very industrialised corporate culture, our client wanted to know what it could learn from this process.

We took the world of car design directly to the client in a series of client and car designer workshop days and made presentations to several departments to illustrate the car design process as well as showing case studies on leading practice from the car industry. This created key learnings that the client used as part of their restructuring process.


A world of expertise

One very unique part of Car Design Research is our extensive network of associates. They’re based all around the world and include independent high level designers, creatives from other industries, trend experts, user interface specialists, journalists and academics.

We use them to directly inform our work, and generally keep us clever with a breadth and depth of knowledge and insights from the four corners of the globe.

Should we build this?

A car company creates a very different type of concept – but should they build it?

The client reputation was for industry-leading innovation. Even so, it knew its concept car study was a radical departure – but was it too radical?

After the shock factor and the inherent ‘wow’ of being presented something new, they wanted to reliably understand how its audience perceived this concept.  How legitimately did it fit with their brand image? How did it connect to their other products (was the gap too great)?

To get a qualified, fast response, Car Design Research conducted sixty filmed interviews with our network of experts over a two-day period at two separate shows in Europe and the US. We spoke with car designers and other industry representatives within our network along with design and technology media to give a robust, fast and very informed view on what this car meant.

Our commentary – delivered in the form of two films – uncovered six fundamental perspectives and related recommendations, which contributed to internal decisions not to take the project forward.

Inspiring Nissan’s European team

CDR helps London team tap into local creativity

Nissan Design Europe (NDE) has a studio in Europe so that it can tap into the local creative environment. But project schedules and the inherent confidentiality of the car design process meant its team had experienced little real benefit from this.

“Can you kick-start engagement with our local creative industries to inspire us?” they asked.  “Can you bring us insights into what other creative industries do, can we learn from their processes and investigate how we might partner with them in some instances?”

Car Design Research set up a rolling programme of regular ‘inspiration trips’ that ran over several months. These half-day events were themed around different creative disciplines – fashion, horology, ‘bespoking’, fine-art, branding, virtual design, and more. On each trip we visited three to four leading organisations or practitioners, taking the client team to see first-hand demonstrations and leading discussions on the potential synergies between the practices.

We help our clients to design more successful cars.