Car Design With A Socialnomic Perspective

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? 😉


7 thoughts on “Car Design With A Socialnomic Perspective

  1. Again with social media…. like it or not seems like its going that way ay.
    The article kinda reminds me of my entry for a competition – user interface mobility..apparently lol.
    it allows user to customize and integrate their own wallpaper which is projected by the vehicles body surface…. which happens to be multiple lcd screens just like the samsung ad with the gigantic cat and Niagara falls….hmm cant find a way to attach a file here tho’…

    seems like car/transport design has a whole lots of agenda on its list, being sustainable and what not,
    the idea of autonomobile and now this socialnomics, wonder which will make its mark first.

  2. Azlano:

    Great to have someone with a shared opinion! Thanks for the mention and I’m glad you enjoyed the book.


    Author of Socialnomics

    1. It’s an honour to have you leave a comment in my blog Erik. Thanks and hope you meet you again online.


  3. hello there…now i believe that it is true and really true that uitm graduates is one of the best in malaysia…congrats to you and i’m proud to be part of uitm family…i read about u on one of local newspaper and such a succesful person…anyway i just wanna to ask you some question and i hundred percent believe that this comment or reply would definitely out of the topic from your discussion above….i just only want to know the type of the font for SAGA SE or blm…coz i did reply to your “saga” post but got no reply even until today…sorry for this annoying and thank you again….go go uitm!!!

  4. azlano,
    its great if our car is in package with those interactive things. very very brilliant.
    for instance, on line engine tuning, select sport tune or economy tune and download to engine management. authorised by proton, done at at home in a few minute, done.

    again it might costs.
    but, could this be cheaper for everybody with high acessibility even for students, in other word affordable,

    why i raise thus up. because when i was driving i glimpsed a billboard says, 1.4 million malaysian are using braodband. now if 1 person pay 50 ringgit for her or his broadband monthly, thats mean the provider collets 7 million ringgit every month, yes 7 million ringgit every month,

    so could this little gadget be (written made in china on it) made highly accessible (cheaper) for students using it to dig valuable knowledge, googling for their homework or assignment or any kind of problem solving. or it is as good as in car interactive as a free security tracking device with mobile phone.

    this is no luxury, this is necessity. so make the tool for knowledge accesible at every level of the society.

  5. sorry 1.4 times 50 oops that 70 million rm.
    well not all.. they might share , cut it half, 35 million ringgit per month. yes, per month.

  6. Nice article 🙂

    I’d recommend reading “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt. Hopefully then, Proton will understand and redefine what business they are in 🙂

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