Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Winning by sticking to your roots; Volvo and Range Rover

So that makes two brands trotting out old cars in a bid to highlight just how good their new cars are.

Firstly, we had Volvo asking journalists to drive old workhorses like the 240, 740 and 850 at the UK launch of the naughty S60. Joe Simpson, writing for Car Design News remarked on how much improved the overall performance of the new car was. Read the rest of this entry »

Nissan Muran-oh-dear-god

As the adage goes, you have some hits and you have some misses.

When it comes to Nissan’s recent history, the hits are manifold (350Z, original Cube, Qashqai, anything called GT-R and, latterly, the Juke).

Therefore, the misses are all the more bizarre and I really can’t think of a miss more spectacular than the Murano Cross Cabriolet. Read the rest of this entry »

#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 »

Drinking the Kool-aid Pt. 2: Hyundai loves Mazda

The book of the generation of the Hyundai i-Flow, the son of Mazda, the son of Hyundai.

Sassou begat Nagare;

and Nagare begat Ryuga;

and Ryuga begat Hakaze and his brethren Kazamai, Furai, Taiki and Kiyora;

And then Sassou invited his bretheren to a swingers party with a dude from Hyundai and they all got jiggy and begat the i-Flow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Drinking the Kool-aid Pt. 1: Seat loves Audi

Something odd happened at the Geneva Motorshow today: Seat’s little IBe inherited some LED-powered glitz and glamour from big-sister brand Audi.

The question is, if these headlamps were behind you, could you tell which one was your granny in the Seat and which one was your Daddy in the Audi?

No, thought not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aston Martin’s Handbag

So the wraps have come off the production-ready Cygnet at the Geneva Motor show and I’m as mad as ever with this cynical little marketing exercise (my previous take on the car is here). For proof of how off-zeitgeist the little Toyota-in-ready-to-wear is, Steve Cropley over at Autocar reports that Aston chief Dave Richards says the car will

sell the way a £3000 Hermès handbag does to rich ladies.

The comment rings with the same misplaced smugness that Ulrich Bez projected when suggesting that the massive Lagonda SUV concept was ideal for HNW individuals in eastern and developing countries. This was , presumably, because it could crush the proletariat as it steamed from oil well to arms deal to the House of the Rising Sun.

In his short piece on Autocar’s ever-interesting Design Language blog, Cropley goes on to imply that those rich ladies mustn’t have a good understanding of the Toyota range if they’re going to shell out for the Cygnet.

I go on to say that, Toyota underpinnings or not, Ason Martin’s product messages get more off track with every motor show.

Read the rest of this entry »

Audi’s Guided Missile: the A1

Working in Germany I was thrown in the deep end of perceived quality research, taking more macro shots of headlamps, instrument panels and door cards than I care to remember. Yet I’m happy to come right out and say it: perceived quality fascinates me.

Gear shifter from the new Audi A8 (click to enlarge with caution, you might wet yourself...)

The way the tricks we use – from the amazingly detailed design of touch zones in a car interior to a superbly detailed tail lamp enclosure – coalesce to convince consumers that a product that feels good must be good, no matter the integrity of the engineering underneath the skin is a delightful thing. Take a look at the gear shift above and you might get an inkling of what I’m talking about.

Perceived quality’s a psychological game played by designers and engineers that reaps massive rewards for the companies that do it right. Just ask VW, who started on a head-long rush to improve the improve feel-good factor of everyday cars with a couple of otherwise unremarkable vehicles in ’96-’97. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Thoughts: Watch Out, the Koreans are Coming Edition

Third time’s clearly the charm with Kia’s baby SUV, the Sportage.

The first generation of the Sportage impressed with it’s cheapness, off-road prowess and… well that’s about it*.  The second one, if we’re honest, had even less to recommend it: in a nod to changing market expectations of small SUVs, it dropped any semblance of off-roadability and was simply cheap.

1st and 2nd Generation Kia Sportage (click to enlarge)

Yet given the strides Kia’s been making in the design department of late (the conservative but nicely resolved Koup, Soul and Sorento all come to mind), the new Sportage was always going to represent a significant stylistic departure from its dowdy predecessors. In fact, having looked over the press shots, I’d go do far as to say that the new Sportage is the best resolved Kia to date and another indicator of just how serious the brand is about conquering the middle of the market. Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the day: Of Apples and Peugeots

“The [Peugeot] 505 is a saloon with quite a pleasant appearance, quite efficient engines, quite comfortable seating, quite nice steering and a quite reasonable price. And it is quite well constructed. So, you might say it was merely average. But can it really be that simple? Have Peugeot in fact, played a very clever game where, instead of dazzling us with technology or breathtaking styling, they have decided to woo us with understatement of the profoundest kind?”

Archie Vicar, Automotive Journalist, writing in The Monthly Car Review in October, 1979

The iPad is a tablet computer with quite a pleasant appearance, a quite efficient processor, quite comfortable physical dimensions, a quite nice user experience and a quite reasonable price. And it is quite well constructed. So, you might say it was merely average. But can it really be that simple? Have Apple in fact, played a very clever game where, instead of dazzling us with technology or breathtaking styling, they have decided to woo us with understatement of the profoundest kind?

Given how often I talk about the intersection of automotive design strategy and a generation of kids more interested in their iPhones and iPads than cars, how could I not repurpose the wonderful Mr. Vicar?

And on a similar but different tack: having comprehensively lost their way stylistically, Peugeot would do well to revisit Archie’s observation because it neatly sums up what made the brand so loveable.

Apple, on the other hand, clearly needs no such advice…

Quick Thoughts: A small car in a big car’s pants: the new Ford Focus

Ford’s new Focus has been unleashed a full year ahead of it’s European on-sale date and it’s already generating substantial comment in the sphere of the blogs. Ed Stubbs and Dustin Shedlarski have both written interesting critiques of a design that I, personally, find a little schizophrenic. But let’s face it: when you’re trying to design one C-Segment product for two markets – one that’s been downsized for decades and another that’s only just coming to terms with the concept – things are bound to get a little hectic. Read the rest of this entry »

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.