I’ve just had my eye drawn to a cute little competition being run by DesignBoom – in collaboration with Porsche and the Scuola Politecnica di Design – for which entrants have been asked to design a wrap “to enhance the visual appearance of the sports vehicle”.
There’s a clear impetus here, on the part of Porsche, to try and bring some of the visually-oriented expression of self that younger generations engage in online into their brand world.
Where once we projected ourselves into shiny new cars, using them as a representation of how we wanted to be perceived (and how we perceived ourselves), outlets like Facebook enable us to do this far more easily, cheaply and in real-time. These wraps are likely seen, from a marketing perspective, as the bridge between the two.
Yet it seems that until car manufacturers really – properly – get their head around the fact that cars themselves are no longer the social avatars of choice for a growing number of young people, we’ll have to put up with window-dressing like the wraps (or the fraught incorporation of Facebook and Twitter apps into in-car entertainment systems: “Hey guys, I’m sat in traffic! LOLZ”).
It seems fairly appropriate, given that I’m passing my New Year in Paris, to catch wind that the City of Light is looking to ban SUVs from the town centre.
In a two-fingered salute to the haute bourgoisie, Dennis Baupin, deputy mayor, said of the SUV
“Sell it and buy a vehicle that’s compatible with city life. I’m sorry, but having a sport utility vehicle in the city makes absolutely no sense”.
Bravo! say I to monsieur, having witnessed one to many inelegantly parked Range Rover in the 16th for one week. But the most laudable aspect of this story (whcih the Detroit Free Press and, by turns, Autoblog failed to link) is the fact that Paris is providing a carrot to go with their 2.5 tonne stick.
Having got to grips with providing velos en masse through the Vélib’ scheme, the city is now rolling out Autolib’, a system of 3,000 Pinifarina deisgned electric cars available from 1,000 stations for a subscription of €12/month. Chic, easy to park and -above all- producing zero emissions, the little Autolib’s should prove immensely attractive to urbanites who are keen to live without the pain of car ownership (Parisian cars spend 95% of the time parked and 16% of Parisians use their cars less than once a month) but maintain the liberty that comes with four wheels and a roof over one’s head.
For me, the take with one hand and give back with the other approach will be the crux of the success of Autolib’. The city of Paris recognises that cars give us enormous personal freedom, a freedom we’re loathe to give up in the name of “better” living for everyone. But if the city can provide us with an alternative that doesn’t cost us in terms of access, usability or -importantly- style and personality, we’ll be far happier to hand over the keys to the tank.
Now Boris, where are our Barclays Beetles?
P.S. Apologies for bowing to the cliché of dropping some Francais into this post. Paris tends to have that effect…
T’was pointed in the vague direction of this yesterday and I thought it so… cute, so right that I couldn’t not pass it on.
The Peugeot RCZ is the French manufacturer’s first entry into the small sports coupe market since Pompidou was building edifices to himself. Sadly, unlike many of Pompidou’s delectations, the RCZ has been ribbed for lacking in design originality (delightful double-bubble glass roof notwithstanding).
Portrayed alternatively as the hairdresser’s hairdresser’s Audi TT or the pleb’s Porsche Cayman, one could easily expect Peugeot – a brand not known for marketing brilliance – to storm off in a fit of French pique at the reactions of the motoring press.
Happily, Peugeot’s Swiss agency, Euuro RSCG Switzerland, decided to turn the problem on its head, putting a smile on my dial in the process.
Can’t fix the problem? Change the conversation. Well done Peugeot!
I see so much of this stuff, time after time at the motor shows that I couldn’t help but giggle.
Still, the cartoon highlights the disconnect between a manufacturer’s reality (our cars are still made from oil and stuff dug out of the ground and run on same) and their marketing (our cars are BFFs with pandas, run on sun and happiness and blow green leaves out of their exhausts).
P.S Whatever your take on the exterior of the Toyota FT-EV II, the interior is an absolute cracker, cracker enough to make Citroen designers weep. Sadly Toyota only published one press shot of it so you’ll have to take my word on just how great it is…@EricGallina from Car Design News kindly provided some far better images for your enjoyment. Hat tip to Eric!
I’m not doubting that Chris Bangle was right when, in his speech at TED in 2002, he referred to the car as an avatar, or a representation of the self. I’m certainly aware of the efficacy with which my personality was reflected and communicated through the various vehicles I’ve owned over the years.
For a while now, however, the thought that cars no longer connect to a new generation of consumers on the visceral level that they once did has fascinated me. There’s even a video of me somewhere talking about the difficulties of designing cars for people who now see more value in networks and the devices that plug us in to them than they do in the objects that were the symbols of success of generations past.
On the few occasions I’ve dared broach this issue with the old-school of my industry, I’ve been looked upon with suspicion. Because wrapped up in all this is the notion that cars will cease to pull at the emotional heart strings that make us want to consume more cars (for the record, my heart strings are pulled daily. At the moment, Ferrari 400is are playing a sweet rendition of a Haydn cello concerto). The thing is, when you analyse trends you may not like what you see on a personal level but you’re duty bound to report them. As a design strategist you then need to try and find a way to work them.
Anyway, on to todays bombshell. It seems that someone at Toyota is thinking along the same lines, albeit in a rather fatalistic manner. In an article from the Mainichi Newspaper, quoted on Kotaku, an unnamed Toyota exec came right out and said
“Home game machines are no good. Playing something that realistic makes the need for cars disappear.”
Putting my 2 cents in, I don’t think he’s referring to disappearance of the need for basic mobility per se as we still need to get around. It’s more likely he’s talking about the impending inability of brands to sell on the basis of high performance, noise, luxury, pedigree or any other emotionally based attribute that has previously been used to get someone out of their Toyota Corolla and into a Lexus IS250.
Not only are these aspirational attributes-made-real, otherwise known as cars, increasingly irrelevant in a nation as ill-suited to the car as Japan, but you can enjoy them for the price of a PS3/Gran Turismo bundle in the luxury of your lounge room. Do I long for a day when I strap on my driving gloves, sit down with a cup of tea and bang around a London street circuit in suburban Sydney? No, but anecdotally at the very least, I’m a member of a club whose membership is shrinking. And returning to the notion of car-as-avatar, we have at our disposal devices like the iPhone and services like Facebook that allow us to communicate our personalities in a much more media-rich, not to mention cheaper, way than a car ever could in it’s current form.
The challenge is there for all to see and there are murmurings of recognition within the broader industry, as the Toyota exec demonstrates. An automotive future where I can satisfy my inner geek and petrol head? Yes please.
P.S. That photo 135i above? It’s a screen shot from Gran Turismo 5…
I thought I’d get back into the swing of things with something light weight but nonetheless enjoyable.
The ad above, found via Autoblog, is a celebration of the chevroned one’s first 90 years, a small portion of which I’ve taken great delight (and sometimes enormous despair) in sharing. My great aunt had a metallic sky blue DS that enchanted me as a small child while, in a moment of temporary insanity, I purchased a CX2400 Pallas for AU$1. You can perhaps imagine how that story ended…
Hitting it’s stride with the mass-production of front-wheel drive in the 15, Citroen went on to produce some of the most sensual, seductive (and sometimes ruinous) cars in the form of the DS, CX, XM, C6 and, long may she reign, the seminal SM.
Beyond these hydropneumatically suspended beasts, Citroen also produced some cracking small cars. Think of the iconic 2CV, the plastic-bodied Mehari or the slightly unhinged AX Gti (an example of which nearly prematurely ended my life thanks to the ease with which the car’s 100 Bhp could get it airborn…) and you’ll know what I mean.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some woeful missteps in the company’s storied history.
They’ve produce some of the most challengingly styled cars this side of the Pontiac Aztek (Ami 6, I’m looking at you) and the whole of 90’s and the first few years of the 00’s were, XM aside, unbelievably glum times for Cit lovers. It seemed as though Peugeot, the controlling partner in the PSA conglomerate, wanted to kill off all the remaining fans with sheer boredom while destroying what market credibility they had left with 0% finance deals and discounts that basically wrote brick-off-a-cliff depreciation into the contract of sale.
I owned a car from this era, a Xantia 2.1 TD, whose sole redeeming feature was it’s ability to do one lap of the Nürburgring without expiring. Even the pleasures of the hydropneumatics were subsumed by Peugeot’s efforts to make the car more “Germanic” (read annoyingly stiff and jittery). And don’t even get me started on the wet fart that was the Xsara.
Happily all of this is overlooked in this joyous advertisement. What we get instead is a veritable orgy of what makes Citroen great: floaty suspension, turning headlamps, cyclops eye instruments out of the CX and a feisty woman going nuts on a beach in an SM, all with Eartha Kitt growling in the background. The LHM lover in me really couldn’t ask for anything more.
I must appologise for things being a little quiet on the DownsideUpDesign front.
At relatively late notice I was fortuitous enough to gain press accreditation (yes, I’m now a fully accredited journalist with the IFJ) for the Frankfurt Motor Show, known in German as the IAA, or Eeeee Ahhh Ahhh (which always sounds vaguely pornographic).
So while you, dear reader, have been wondering weather I’d left the mortal coil to pilot that great big Espada in the sky, I was wandering hither and thither around what is possibly the worlds largest motor show. Sitting on a site 1.2Km long by .5Km wide, if it weren’t for the press cars and their beautiful drivers, I’d have legs like Arnie.
Three 7 am starts and 2 am finishes later I can safely say I conquered it. What have I got to show for it? Well apart from some fabulous discussions with designers, PR types and general good guys that I hope to elaborate on here and elsewhere, I managed to amass around 4,000 photos and my first ever videos. Rather than bore you with all of them (I do get a little carried away at times…) I’ve put together a small selection of 384 piccies on my Flickr page. It’s a bit of a random bunch and the analysts amongst you will be able to tell far to much about me than I care to know. Nevertheless, take a look and let me know how you found the show through my eyes.
It’s been a while since I’ve turned my mind to the GM empire (in fact the last time I saw fit to comment was when the highly questionable GMC Terrain surfaced…). But conversations with the head of social media at GMH (Holden) and a little discovery I made yesterday has got me thinking about the people’s car company all over again.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks discussing the ability of social media to open up dialogue between automotive designer and customer. The benefits, as I see them, are twofold. Firstly, designers get access to crucial insight from the people they often have the least professional contact with, their customers. Secondly, the designers themselves, as opposed to the cringe-inducing PR lackeys, can help spread the message about their work, breaking down the hitherto impermeable walls of the design studio.
Lo and behold, GM has jumped into the ring with a new project called The Lab (take a look at it here) and it seems to be a solid first step in engaging designer and customer in a productive, conversational way. This marks a turning point in the use of social media as a truly two-way street into and out of automotive companies outside of the PR department. It’s also heralds the incorporation of social media research into the product development process by enabling access between customers and the people responsible for designing their cars.
Traditionally, market research consultancies were commissioned to suss out customer need and wants on behalf of design departments. Somewhat predictably, market researchers, with their marketing imperatives, ask marketing questions and present their marketing answers, mostly metrics, to… designers.
Based on my experience, marketers and designers very rarely speak the same language and, unsurprisingly, rooms of blank stares and yawns are the usual outcome. At best, there might be a clue or two hidden in the marketer-speak for design management to interpret for the benefit of the designers. At worst, nobody in design gets it and they go off and sketch something for themselves (probably on the back of the latest trend report from marketing).
Somewhat notoriously, Ford has tried to get around this disconnect by building a persona around the marketing metrics (her name is Antonella) but at the end of the day she’s a fabrication, too easily moulded to suit the whims of the various stakeholders in the design/marketing/sales triumvirate.
Recognising that the traditional market research model fails to connect with designers and that there’s no substitute for real people, a small number of ex-designers and design strategists (people who, in this context, sit at the confluence of market insight and design output) have set up consultancies that aim to ask the right kind questions of customers in order to get design-relevant responses.
The key to their success is that their outcomes are presented in ways that make sense to designers and the marketing/sales teams. It’s a largely successful approach, and having worked in this kind of arrangement, I can attest to the palpable sense of relief expressed by designers when another of their ilk gets up and delivers truly useful, comprehensible market insights. Importantly, these consultancies strive to deliver outcomes where the direct implications for the designer’s work are clearly defined.
Where this approach falls down, however, is when you want to establish a richer, longer-lasting conversation with the customer. The project-by-project basis on which the older strategy consultancies work is just too finite and the idea of using the internet to reach more people in a more more conversational way just hasn’t occurred to them.
This is why GM’s Lab experiment is so interesting. It cuts out the woefully inappropriate (for designers) market research companies, the simplex, time-limited information stream of the design strategy consultancies and gets right to the customer in a way that openly encourages dialogue.
Admittedly, there are a couple of issues that come to mind. Firstly, if the content isn’t inclusive and word isn’t spread far enough, the only people the designers will be talking to are the die-hard fans (although die-hards have their place as brand evangelists, it’s actually Joe Average who almost always provides the most surprising, useful insights). Their current content videos are too one-sided and way too corporate for this commentator.
Secondly, I have an inkling that asking the right kind of questions, the analysis of the responses and, most crucially, maintaining the momentum of the project will still require dedicated design strategists. Then again, I would say that. I still believe that outside consulting will continue to have an important role in defining design projects, a social media stream will simply provide another, more immediate source of feedback for designers to bounce off.
As an experiment, The Lab ties in closely with the views I’ve expressed in the past and GM should be applauded for their pioneering efforts. It will be fascinating to watch how the dialogue between designer and customer develops over the months and, hopefully, years to come. Ultimately, it represents a bold step towards opening up the design process in a useful, engaging way and a wonderfully appropriate one. I mean, it is the people’s car company after all.
I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Seren. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I host an event called Rising Minds, at Shoreditch House.
DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.
Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!
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