We are an agency that helps our clients realise commercially more successful designs
Our every-day context is the emotive relationship customers have with the world’s most sophisticated consumer product
We ensure that when our clients make creative leaps, they start from higher and firmer ground
Our work informs design teams and substantiates future creative directions for management
We don’t ask customers what they think they want; we help our clients envisage what customers will want
Creative solutions and leadership goes further when underpinned with good intelligence and clear strategy
What we do (and case studies)
Founded in 2000, Car Design Research is uniquely an agency that works in the space between design, product and brand, undertaking research projects to usefully inform our clients’ creative projects. We are fluent in car design, see things from a customer point-of-view, and embrace the connected, autonomous, shared, electrified future — and we also take our expertise in this most sophisticated and emotive area into non-automotive projects.
Challenge - Vision – Rationale - Execution
Our heartland; working closely with (not just for) the client team to define their challenge, to create robust and exciting future brand, design and product visions — along with compelling justification to gain buy-in — and then help them execute their strategy within the company.
Best practice – Trends - Insights
Providing client teams with rich, useful ‘food’ that enables them to make their creative leap from a firmer and higher start point: best practice, relevant trends and forecasts, and powerful insights from research in specific areas relevant to the client challenge.
Experience — Co-create
Curating experiences that bring clients into direct contact with relevant stimuli and people, and co-creations sessions with other creatives.
Exploring – Realising
Considering potential design implications, exploring directions these might best take, and then realising these as initial design ideations in 2D or 3D digital form.
Insights – Surveys - Audits
A qualified external view on client issues; headline expert insights, large customer surveys, and rigorous audits for brand, design, product and perceived quality.
Talks – Classes – Events
Delivering engaging talks to a range of audiences, ‘master-classes’ to elevate in-house know-how, and design contests and seminars to engage with new ideas and audiences.
Who we do it for
95% of our work is for R&D teams within car companies. But we also work for other automotive agencies and suppliers — and for non-automotive brands who value working with a team fluent with the world’s most sophisticated consumer product and who really understand commercially critical emotive customer relationships…
"For several years I’ve much valued close support from the team at Car Design Research… they have worked with me to create key design management tools for Kia and Hyundai that will enable us to consistently differentiate our brands and elevate the contribution design makes to our business."Peter Schreyer, Chief Design Officer, Hyundai, and President and chief design officer, Kia
"Car Design Research worked very closely with me to develop a new Design Strategy for Volvo cars that we're rolling out now. Their work was clear and visually strong for us to use in Design, but also had the commercial substantiation valued by our management team."Thomas Ingenlath, Chief Design Officer, Volvo. CEO Polestar
"We retained CDR for a comprehensive study on our brand, the beating heart of the our business. Their work enlightened unknown strengths which will make our business run faster in current races. Even more important, they suggested unforeseen game fields where our business proposition is encountering major interests. In essence, our heart was looked after extremely well."Silvio Angori, CEO, Pininfarina
"We have recently partnered with CDR to develop the essence of new end-user experiences in car interiors enabled by autonomous driving. CDR quickly develop a level insight that lead to very clear new use-cases. We were very impressed with their expertise and the quality and relevance of their work for our project."Han Hendriks, CTO and Global VP, Advanced Product Development and Sales, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors (previous Johnson Controls)
"When we needed a credible and knowledgeable outside point of view, we naturally turned to Car Design Research. Their vast knowledge of all things design, experience in the field and network of design professionals establishes them as a reference point for car companies."Laurens van den Acker, Senior Vice President of Corporate Design, Renault
"The trend reports from each of the major auto shows that CDR presents to all of our global design studios are great; succinct, insightful and clearly well researched."Joel Piaskowski, Global Design Director Cars and Crossovers, Ford
Below are some of our clients over the last ten years (many others cannot be listed for reasons of confidentiality)
How we do things
We don’t do research that asks customers what they want in the future; we work out new directions they don’t know — but will want — and show how and why these makes sense. We are unusual in having a core team of automotive design research professionals that then harness a unique body of well informed associates from Europe, Asia, the US and beyond; with expertise in automotive, mobility, and UX design — and several other fields.
Sam Livingstone, Director
Passionate about cars and design from a young age, these interests took Sam through product design and design management degrees where the strategic use of design, and particularly car design, became his focus. He has now led automotive design strategy projects for many Asian, European and US automotive brands, working closely with many of the world’s design directors. Prior to founding Car Design Research, he was a management consultant, which in turn followed a four year period as Design Strategist in the design group of a large automotive OEM. Sam used to part own, and be Editorial Director of, Car Design News, and has for the last 17 years tutored at London’s Royal College of Art on the Intelligent Mobility Design programme — previously Vehicle Design. He also sits on the judging panel of several important design awards: ‘World Car of the Year’; iF Design’; and ‘Scuderia Zagreb’ and is an occasional (award winning) critical writer on car design.
Robert Dooley, Design Strategist
Robert works across all areas of CDR projects, in particular on areas that concern emergent technology and creative process. A champion of new mobility (and cycling), he is also active in PhD research looking into bringing computational methods and automation technologies to automotive design practice.
Tom Ridge, Product Strategist
Thomas brings a high level of experience and abilities in automotive research, drawing from finance, engineering and sales experience to inform and substantiate much of the contexts of the creative process in new vehicle development programmes — and particularly advanced product planning. His automotive OEM experience includes managing multi-million pound programmes, leading long term planning process and competitor analysis for the C-suite.
Ian Mbote, Technical Strategist
Ian brings an automotive engineering background, big-data academic research at post-graduate level, and interest in consumer tech and AI to the company. He’s previously worked for automotive start-up Mobius Motors in Africa where he oversaw the reinvention of the car from the ground up — developing a modern vehicle rugged and powerful enough to traverse African terrain, yet simple and cheap.
Sarah Douglas, Experience Lead
With a fine art background and huge array of interests and contacts in the creative industries, Sarah is central to delivering much of our curated experiences and creative learning programmes.
Miika Heikkinen, Design Lead
Miika has a product and automotive background from OEM and agency side, and brings a diverse but deep skill-set to an increasing number of our projects. His particular value to CDR projects is working symbiotically with the rest of the team on fast-moving creative projects that need formative design realisation.
Chair of Intelligent Mobility Design (previously Vehicle Design), Royal College of Art
Uniquely prolific car and race car designer. Previously Design Director at McLaren, Lotus and MG.
Creative Director Monk Design. Previously senior designer at JLR, Lincoln, Rolls Royce and design director at Wally Yachts.
Master of Arts Programme Director for Transportation Design Education, Umea Institute of Design, Umea University.
President and Art Director SW Design. Previously senior designer at Audi (A5 Mk1, Q7 Mk1) and Nissan.
Principal of Designby11. Previously senior designer Porsche (Carrera GT concept), Samsung, Mercedes, Aptera.
Founder and Director StudioB, L.U.E. 901. Previously senior designer at Nissan (350Z).
Founder and Director LeapSTONE. Previously Design Director British Airways.
Professor Faculty for Design, Hochschule München.
Executive Director School of Industrial Design, Academy of Art University. Previously Design Director Mazda (MX5 Mk1, RX7 Mk3).
Founder OnGoing Transportation. Director of Advanced Mobility, Art Centre College of Design.
Independent automotive designer and strategic adviser. Previously VP Design and CCO Pininfarina.
Independent UX designer, previously Creative Director at Native and at US Two.
Writer, curator and broadcaster in Sound Art.
Design Lead, Northern Works. Previously Senior Designer Tesla, designer Mazda.
Every project is different, we deliver value to our clients in many ways including:
- 1-to-1 director level consulting and coaching
- Image dense presentation reports
- Macro / poster info-graphics
- Filmed expert perspectives
- Internal strategy guidelines in book form
- Strategy sessions with client team
- In-person or remote presentations
- Co-creation workshops
- Ad-hoc cross project support (by retainer)
Where our work takes us
We go the auto shows. We drive a lot of cars. We have have a range of perspectives on the future of car design.
We attend every major auto show, publish a preview list, insights from the show floor, and a synopsis. And produce Design Trend Reports.
When we’re not working on client projects, we often end up discussing different perspectives on car design.
Our own projects - testing hypothesis or try to understand some facet of the car design picture we think important.
The whole CDR team is vested in the future of the car; but we also have petrol in our blood…
Why we do it
The car is the zenith of tools
2.6 million years ago man made the first stone tool. Today the world’s most sophisticated consumer product is the car; a confluence of many advancing technological features entwined with much emotive socio-cultural meaning. It is the most useful of products, and the richest in identity — the car is the zenith of tools.
Cars are the most visually impactful designed artifact in the world
There are a hundred million cars in the world today — parked end to end they would reach to the moon; they make an unprecedentedly large visual impact on billions of people. And as a product that moves, they are even more visible: in the developed world people typically see over 100 car designs a day. Arguably there is no more visually impactful designed artifact than the car.
Car design is the most developed industrial craft in the world
More effort goes into a car’s design than into any other designed artifact; without even considering function, just to resolve the form of a single car typically takes more than 50,000 designer hours of exceptional depth and breadth of abilities across media from hand and digital sketches through tape drawings, digital and clay modeling, to complex CAD iterations over a 2 to 3 year period. A car design is the outcome of the most developed industrial craft in the world.
Design makes a huge difference to commercial performance
Good design is not just about making a product look good. It is about creating something that works with its brand (within the subtle parameters of the market and relative to competitors) and that delivers on tangible and intangible future needs and wants of many customers. Realising this with well informed design strategies, and with talented designers, accounts for the smallest bit of the typical $500 million budget for a new car programme, but it is the bit that can make a disproportionately large difference to that programme’s commercial performance.
There has never been a time with more to win — or lose — through car design
With emergent technologies fast changing the car of the early-mid twenty-first century, designing cars to be both exceptionally useful and delightful for customers has more challenges and opportunities than ever before. Unfashionably perhaps, we think their will be more variety in tomorrow’s cars, that they will have a wider spectrum of relationships with users, and that design will be a greater component of their success than it is today. There has never been a time when companies have more to win — or lose — through car design.
A virtuous circle of working with the most informed and talented people
We work hand-in-hand with the design directors of many of the world’s car brands, with over 100 exceptionally informed associates, and on a broad and deep array of future-facing research projects. This rich experience elevates our in-house expertise and enables us to take this learning to clients engaged in other creative projects centred on the emotive relationship between customer and brand – and then, in a virtuous circle, take this back to the car world.
Making a difference by being truly useful to clients
There are many reasons why we do the work we do, but ultimately our central motivation is to help our clients better realise their ambitions and thus to make a difference. So within every project we focus on asking the right questions, getting to the heart of what matters in research findings, sythesising relevant outcomes, delivering outputs that genuinely inform projects, and disseminating this clearly for all stakeholders. We work to make a difference by being truly useful to clients.