Note: This article originally appeared in the thinklab blog. Click HERE to be directed to the site. My personal thanks to the thinklab team for supporting & engaging the design discipline in Malaysia as we push towards globalization through design awareness.
Car design is a very interesting and challenging profession. It involves a multitude of people from diverse disciplines and is always under intense pressure to create the ‘what’s next’ for the world to see. In essence car design today can be also be likened to crystal-balling future trends in the effort to always stay one step ahead of the competitors. That effectively puts it in the same league as some of the more technical fields of work such as forex forecasting, advance engineering and social sciences. It’s worth noting also another rather new field which is becoming more and more intertwined with design; socialnomics. Technically speaking it isn’t that new but relatively it is a field of knowledge that has only started to gain prominence in organizations over the past few years. Erik Qualman (author of the book Socialnomics) states that it is quite simply the art of listening to people around you.
This knowledge in the ‘other facet’ of car design is what will differentiate auto designers of the past with the designers of the future. Honestly speaking, car designers of today can no longer be complacent and delve only in their field exclusively supported by what they learned in college. No, they must evolve.
Allow me to give you two examples from the past 6 months. On 7th January the Ford Motor Company announced they will partner with notable social media companies like Openbreak, Pandora and Stitcher to bring Twitter & internet radio control to their cars. Simply put, users will soon be able to social network directly from the comforts of their car interior (with safety systems engaged of course) using their smartphones. This initiative is a breakthrough for a primarily traditional company like Ford, especially when you take into account the current crisis they are facing. But adapt they must to these up coming technologies and trends to stay one step ahead of their competitors. Subsequently on May 13th, General Motors also announced their intention to partner with Google to implement the latter’s Android OS into their cars. This collaboration would allow users to control in-car systems like navigation, multimedia and telephony via their Android powered smartphones.
So what gives? Why would these stalwarts of the auto industry go on a relatively foreign tangent from their usual self? It is obvious they recognize the need to change from their usual business model and typical mode of operation. This need to change is also known as a tipping point. A point where things or ideals veer off to another seemingly unexpected direction but normally borne out of necessity.
You would ask me now, how does this all relate to DESIGN? It’s pretty straight forward really. Designers also need to evolve in meeting the challenges & needs of social media. Designs need to be tuned towards the complexities of social media where integration is key. This sounds a lot more daunting than it is but in any case shouldn’t be taken lightly. The good news is that most of the young designers today (Gen Y’s especially) are already participating in social networking, thanks to their affinity to this thing called the World Wide Web. All things considered, there are a few key points which I feel must be kept in mind in order to ensure sustenance in this new design agenda:-
Front End Processing is the first thing designers must comprehend & understand. Know what social networking & social media is all about, how it began, where it is today and what holds for it for the future. As more and more of this new technologies are being used by people in cars, there is a need to ensure they are used responsibly and efficiently. Car designers must be able to think in a broader perspective where aesthetics isn’t just enough any more.
Intrinsic Integration is the next bit of skill which will differentiate truly successful designs from the mediocre. In a world where socialnomics is a lifestyle, software & hardware integration will define ease of use and GUIs & HMIs will be the main differentiator which sets designs apart. Components in the car will not only have to talk to each other but also listen in to conversations from the Web and location-based services. Designs must be functional in meeting these needs. Speaking of which…
Location-based Awareness will be the next big thing. Like a killer-app for computer OS’. Once the powers-that-be sort out the logistics and processes required to implement this en-masse I am confident it will become mainstream and be integrated into our everyday lives. For design, specific requirements must be met to ensure the integration is seamless and intuitive.
From what you’ve read I reckon by now you would have noticed that I didn’t specifically delve into normal design ideologies. It is my intention to do so. Let’s be clear, social media is about listening and push information. Design on the other hand is about visual aesthetics and form follow function or function follow form. How can these two specialized fields work together? Actually, they are already deeply rooted together but this is evident more in product design than car design. Having said that, I am confident it will get there very soon.
Allow me to hypothesize; what if we started to sell cars and tie each sale with a contract to a mobile service provider? The customer will not only get a car but also a smartphone which can interact with all his or her social media networks AND the car as well. Mobile number portability will allow seamless transfer of existing number(s) to this new set, should the customer wants to. For the carrier, they will be able to grant greater usage of mobile internet traffic and possibly secure valuable post-paid customers who signs up to data contracts. From here on the possibilities for both the customer and service providers (car & carrier) is almost limitless. Navigation, location-based advertising, social networking, live & instantaneous CRM and B2B + B2C integration are just some of the possibilities.
And guess who will be tasked with designing the interfaces, graphics, haptic responses, gadgets and accessories to power all that? Make sense now doesn’t it? 😉