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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Cities, open data and social gaming

I’ve just spent the morning with the delightfully erudite Leo Hollis discussing the origin of great cities, great cities of the future (hint: it’s not Masdar, Mr. Foster…) and the role that transparency will play in their formation. Naturally this got me thinking about my love of mobility of all sorts and my love of infographics. Long story short, indulge me and take a look at Chromaroma.

Chromaroma Visualisations from Mudlark on Vimeo.

Although it’s a game that you can play – the object being to use the London transport system in the most efficient way possible – it was the visualisation of transport set to Starkey’s Star (featuring Anneka) that really pulled me in. I know, I know, it’s hardly new stuff but I was struck nonetheless; David McCandless was right to call his book Information is Beautiful. The best bit is that we can all be part of this beautiful happening. Sign up here.

Toyota sees the light (and it’s on the front of your PS3)

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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…

#IAATweetup: Frankfurt Motor Show TweetUp/Designer’s Night After Party

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In what may a possible first on the international motor show scene, a group of us (@daveimai, @joesimpson, @charmermark and @carnorama primarily) will be (loosely) hosting a combined Designer’s Night after party and new media type tweetup.

Find us from 22:00 on September 15 at Eurodeli, located at Neue Mainzer Str. 60-66 in Frankfurt (nearest S-Bahn is Taunusanlage, nearest U-Bahn is Alte Oper).

If you’re going to be in town for the show and are looking to kick on after Designer’s Night (or didn’t get an invite in the first place) feel free to join us!

We can’t wait to meet you all there!

P.S Make sure you use the #IAATweetup hashtag in all your Frankfurt Show tweets so we can follow the event!


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[image: Eschipul]

Do I detect a movement? Car design gets more social by the week.

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I’ve just spent two fantastic days volunteering, presenting and learning at the sensational UXAustralia user experience conference in Canberra, Australia.

It seems appropriate, therefore, that this morning I learnt of another socially-led automotive design project.

Following in the vein of GM’s The Lab, Local Motors and Peugeot, Fiat Brasil has now launched the Mio project. Read the rest of this entry »

Detour Ahead: DownsideUpDesign has a new home, becomes DownsideUpDesign.com!

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As a little treat to myself (and, hopefully you guys), I’ve decided to move to a self-hosted WordPress.org set-up for DownsideUpDesign. In the short term, this wont meant a great deal for you but will make my job a lot easier. It also opens up a whole heap of exciting opportunities for the future.

Although the old downsideupdesign.wordpress.com address will continue to work for the next 4 weeks, join in the fun and change your RSS feeds/bookmarks/permalinks to downsideupdesign.com and let’s keep the party rolling!

[Image: Robin D Hinton]

Does GM Design "get" Social Media more than Ford? The Lab is an emphatic "Yes"

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.

[Source: General Motors, Thanks to @cbarger for the original tweet]

Antonella gains a voice, brain, pulse and a… well, becomes a boy

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There’s a risk that I may depart on some vainglorious romp here, but I figure a little self-indulgence is warranted given that DownsideUpDesign has just kicked over the 10,000 visitor mark.

While I was out in Broken Hill, I had to good fortune to catch up with Mark Charmer at the Movement Design Bureau and, even more fortuitously, Rob Hunter and Amy Johannigman, whose work I had the pleasure of reading as part of the Sue Cischke project back in May.

We ended up having a mind expanding conversation (they come along with pleasing regularity when in Mark’s company), discussing the potential for a highly personal style of social media to help generate really meaningful dialogue around design and sustainability.

It’s dialogue that companies like Ford need to be having yet can’t seem to get started. I have a sneaking suspicion, as do Mark, Amy, Rob and many others, that their reliance on mute personae like Antonella has something to do with it…

While I’ll let Mark and Amy fill you in on the details, I’m honoured by the profile they’ve put together and the concept Mark discusses is something that resonates with me on so many levels. It speaks of a bright future for not only  this DownsideUpDesigner and the others out there like me, but also a more open, responsive and sustainable future for the automotive industry, which I seem to have been destined to be a part of for a while now.

If you’ve got this far, then your the kind of reader I love to have. It’s even better if you leave your thoughts below because without the dialogue we share, DownsideUp is just another tree falling in the woods.

Thanks so much for being a part of the first 10,000. I’m looking forward to many, many more.

[Image: Juliana O'Dean-Smith. "Glamorgan", Manilla, North-Western N.S.W, longer ago than I care to remember]

Robin Chase speaks about the social and financial value of car sharing

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Although Robin Chase may not be a household name outside the transport strategy sector, her work has had a major impact in the development and acceptance of car sharing in the US, Canada and the UK.

As the co-founder of Zipcar (a shared vehicle service) and the CEO of the US-based GoLoco (which uses social networking to allow members to maximise the use of their cars), Robin has been at the forefront of changing the way we think about either maximising the use of what we already own, or abandoning ownership all together and sharing a network of cars.

Robin was recently interviewed by Eric Steuer (creative director for Creative Commons) over at Good Magazine and it’s great listening for anyone who’s interested in the future of open sourcing and product-as-service. Crucially, Robin outlines not only the manifold financial benefits of her take on future mobility, but also the social benefits. Head to Good Magazine for the full audio interview.

[Image: Good Magazine]

A beer in the sun and the future of the industry. A perfect combo, no?

Ah, the perils of a pub on the Thames, a pint and a video camera!

Last Friday I had the good fortune to, finally meet with the other half of the Movement Design Bureau, Mark Charmer.

With Joe Simpson and I in tow, he lead us to the most magical London pub I’d ever encountered, the Angel at Rotherhithe (somewhere near Bermondsey if you’re keen).

Ostensibly a social gathering, the ever scheming Mark had the sense to bring along a video camera to catch unsuspecting design strategists mid-pint, mid-cigarette and mid-flight setting the problems of the automotive world to rights.

Head over to the Movement Design Bureau to see Joe and I talking about the long term prospects for automotive industry and how I feel that, despite the massive strides made in HMI and connectivity in the last few years, I still don’t think that we’ve successfully grasped the aesthetic and social potential of the digital age.

[Photo: Mark Charmer]

Update: Sue Cischke, meet Drew Smith. And Dan and Amy and Robb too!

Now with a 10 minute highlights reel of the original 40 minute interview

Last week I was offered the enormous privilege of taking part in a project being run by Joe Simpson and Mark Charmer of the Movement Design Bureau. They’ve been tasked with looking at the perception of Ford’s sustainability message, from top to bottom and inside out. Having watched the project develop over the last few months, I leapt at the chance to be involved.

I was asked to review Joe and Mark’s interview with Sue Cischke, Ford’s group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering and provide my observations based on what I heard. Given Sue’s long and illustrious history in the industry, it wasn’t a task I took lightly. My take on things now been published for the world (and Ford) to read and I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction.

It wasn’t all about me, however, and I commend you to read the fantastic contributions from Dan Stuges, of Intrago, and Amy Johannigman and Robb Hunter from the University of Cincinnati’s storied Department of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.

One of the really exciting aspects of  this project is that 4 people have come together and drawn three different, but highly related (and, in my view, relevant) conclusions from Joe and Mark’s interview with Sue.

Although small in scale, the process amply demonstrates the power of the internet to enable collaboration and connection between geographically dispersed stake-holders, something that Clay Shirky talked about to great effect in his 2005 presentation at TED.

Head over to Re*Move to see the other critiques, plus a whole lot more on the Ford project.

About DownSideUp Design

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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© 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.