Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

#RCAFutureAuto Seminar 2: The role of the vehicle designer – where is it headed?

The second in the Royal College of Art’s Future Vehicle panel series, titled The role of the vehicle designer – where is it headed?, presented an opportunity to answer a question as perplexing to those already working in the industry as those wanting to gain entrée. As has been previously established in this series, the industry is in a state of flux and as old business models and market requirements change, so must the designer. But how? Read the rest of this entry »

#RCAFutureAuto Seminar 1: Seriously now: where is the sustainable vehicle design?

Now, more than ever, sustainability is the issue du jour being discussed – endlessly – amongst observers of the automotive industry. After years of car makers talking up their environmental sustainability credentials, they are now facing a crisis of an altogether more fundamental nature: the sustainability of their businesses.

To investigate the issues surrounding sustainability, both environmental and business, the Royal College of Art (RCA) held a seminar titled Seriously Now: where is the sustainable vehicle design?, one of a series of 5 events looking broadly at the future of automotive design. Read the rest of this entry »

One for the UTS Crew: Pricing Your Work


As part of the brief writing project, there were more than a few questions on how to put a value on your work, especially when dealing with simple concept generation or modeling jobs.

Although the formula above, created by graphic designer David Airey doesn’t get down to dollar level, it might help you understand the factors at play when you price your work. He’s also posted a few really great links to other articles that will help you get your dues, so head on over and have a read.

Ever wondered what a Design Strategist does? Ralf Beuker's got you covered…

Picture 3

Coming back to Sydney after almost four years away, I’m getting a lot of questions about what I actually do for a living these days. Although I’m getting to cocktail party spiel down pat, Raph Goldsworthy over at Design Droplets has just published a fascinating interview with Ralf Beuker (design management luminary and all ’round nice guy) that’s helping me enormously when discussion about the weather has been exhausted.

Full of wonderful insights into the different roles designers and design can play within companies, Ralf covers the full spectrum of design strategy, design management and how design thinking can be applied business-wide, from operational matters up to the corporate level.

Head over to Design Droplets and read one of Raph’s best interviews yet.

[Picture: neutralSurface/Flikr licensed under Creative Commons]

My First Interview ™


I was recently contacted by Michael Roller, over at Strategic Aesthetics, about giving an interview on my approach to strategic design in the automotive industry.

Mike blogs on strategic design in the product arena, a part of the design world that seems so similar to automotive design, but in many ways is so different (and, dare I say it, further down the design strategy road) and his request carried significant weight, working as he does for Kaleidoscope and lecturing at University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. Needless to say it was a real honour and a pleasure to be given this opportunity.

It was a slightly daunting prospect given that it’s the first time I have collected my thoughts on the matter for public consumption, but I hope it gives some insight into my approach.

Many thanks to Michael for allowing me to hold forth!

Read parts one and two here!

NGOs, SUVs and a useful student project


I recently commented on the dearth of useful, innovative concepts at student transport design shows, in particular at the Pforzheim winter show I visited in February.

Today I read this blog posting (found via Twitter) from Stephanie over at From Kala. She’s a project manager for an NGO, working in a refugee camp in Zambia and her observations gave me a flash of inspiration for a socially oriented student project.

Stephanie outlined the problems that the use of SUVs present for both those working for NGOs and those being helped by them. In brief they are:

1. SUVs foster an “us and them” or “developer and developee” mentality by elevating and separating the NGO employees from those that they are meant to be protecting and assisting.

2. SUVs have a destructive effect on the minimal transport infrastructure that exists between the refugee camps and town centres. The problem is exacerbated in the rainy season when the combination of the SUVs ability to ride roughshod over already poor roads and the saturation of the roadbed leads to potholes that make it almost impossible for local vehicles, mostly bicycles and regular cars, to pass. Putting the parlous state of the roads and the gap this creates between the outsiders and the locals in perspective, Stephanie says:

“If I hitch a ride in one of these white monsters, it takes us about 25 minutes to drive to the camp. If I hire a taxi… , it takes more than an hour, nearly as long as it takes to bike.”

Clearly SUVs will have some benefits in these environments but the social and infrastructural impacts of their use makes me wonder if there isn’t a smarter solution than using an off-the-shelf SUV product.

To actively encourage transport design students to pursue a project that looks deeply at both social context and appropriate product fit is, in my experience, pretty unusual. In the product design realm, it’s a different story however. Case in point is Play Made Energy, initiated by Dan Sheridan.

A Coventry University MDes (product) student, Dan recently completed his major project with the assistance of Aventure, a charity and volunteer placement enterprise, to develop power-generating play equipment for a community in Uganda. He’s now secured funding from a consortium of investors and a local innovation investment initiative that will allow his company to start implementing the product on a broader scale within Ugandan schools, in partnership the the Build A School charity.

Obviously, designing an SUV replacement is a task of significantly greater complexity, and one that is unlikely to have such an immediate impact, but Dan’s example shows that well-considered work at the student level can have far-reaching effects, not least on the student themselves. Dan himself talks of the difficulties and rewards of having undertaken such a project but his success is testament to his growth as a designer who is increasingly aware of his social responsibilities.

A socially oriented project can only be helpful for the transport designers of the future by requiring them to deeply consider the consequences of their work. It would also help them understand real-world contexts as opposed to those that are created to support the Utopian vision of gran turismos, extreme off-road vehicles and track specials that continue, by and large, to fill the halls of student exhibitions.

So, those of you out there in design education, what do you think? Is this something you’d like to take on, or do you know of university transport design programs already dealing with broader social issues? If so, myself and the NGO community would love to hear from you.

[Image: John & Mel Kots]

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Westpac. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I help teams host an event called Rising Minds in London, New York, Toronto and Sydney.

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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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.