Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

BMW wants to activate the future

UPDATE: So despite Activate The Future appearing engaging and media-rich, the bone heads at BMW and KBS+P wont let me embed the video. That should qualify as an automatic social media fail. Talk about activating the past. But it’s Monday and I’m still feeling generous. Hit the link in the line below…

This trailer ticks so many boxes Drew-shaped boxes it hurts. From the Plymouth Superbird to the plinkety-plonkety music and the cute bon mots, I was hooked before I even realised what everyone was talking about. Which just so happens to be the future of mobility. Booyah!

The result of a partnership between BMW and KBS+P, the series of four movies will investigate the impact of urban density, technology and society on how we get around. The roster of talking heads is rather impressive with Syd Mead and Buzz Aldrin chipping in amongst others like Marissa Mayer (VP, consumer products, Google) and Robin Chase (Co-founder, Zipcar).

What’s most fascinating to me is that, at an industry level, BMW is completely owning the new mobility space. Of course, they have new range of mobility solutions to hype so it makes perfect sense. But, as yet, none of the big league players have taken up the urban mobility bat in such overt, engaging and media-rich manner. Props to little BMW and partner for getting there first.

The first movie The New City: How the way we live will impact the way we move goes live on February 1 at

Quantifying the self à la Nick Feltron just got appier

The quantified self is something we’ve been chatting about for a while at Sense (seems others are too, to whit the inaugural Quantified Self Conference being held in 2011). Yet it’s always seemed that unless you had the anally-retentive data capturing habits of Nick Feltron, graphing the time you spend on the loo over a course of a year was always going to be a bit of hard work.
Feltron, along with Ryan Case, clearly felt our pain and have released DAYTUM, an iPhone app that simplifies and streamlines the process of capturing, quantifying and visualising the ephemera of life.
Obscure/bizarre/retch-inducing metrics in the comments please. Actually, on second thoughts…

Paris to give SUVs le flick

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…

Range Rover in Paris SamismagiC
Pininfarina Blue Car Pininfarina

Grant McCracken on the importance of lunch

You know the feeling well: your stomach starts grumbling, calling you to a fantabulous feast as the sun sails through its zenith. You want to relent and break free for the outside world, happy for the brief respite from your toil that lunch would provide.

But you need three great ideas for selling ice to eskimos for a mid-afternoon meeting. Food would just get in the way.

You push on, wringing the stone that is your brain, looking for the merest hint of saleable blood. None deigns to dribble out. With the deadline looming, you start to get distracted -panicked even- and look for a way out. The rumblings from your stomach, in the mean time, have become so magnificent they could topple Pompey. In a moment of weakness, you decide to seek solace in the arms of a carb and calorie-laden monstrosity.
Bolting out the office door, dodging the gallingly chirpy folk in the the street, you fight your way to your dealer of choice. You frantically scan the menu, searching for that which will comfort you. That which will help you forget that the client’s due in half an hour.
And then it hits you. The first idea. While you’re trying to decide what to eat.

What does lunch do?  It gives the world a chance to supply it’s “metaphoric materials.” Cause that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?  We are working on a problem to do with logistical systems and someone starts talking about the organization of ganglia in the brain and we go, “But of course.  That will do, nicely.  Thank you.”

I blame the Dewey Decimal system.  (And frankly it’s done so much harm in the world, I am pretty sure no one is going to mind me adding one more accusation.)   The DDS clusters like minded things together.  And that’s what we always do when trying to solve a problem.  We cluster the data, theories, methods, colleagues we think we’ll need when in fact we should be invited serendipity into our lives to give us the chance for those metaphoric materials.

So what is this? It’s a call to lunch. More importantly, it’s a call to enjoy lunch to its full extent and to feel free to share it with the rest of us. You never know what might happen.
(Source: Grant McCracken, Harnessing the Innovation Paradox) (Image: Hans S on Flickr)

Imitation, flattery, Peugeot

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!

(hat tip to @joesimpson)

So, how the hell are you?

Dear DSUppers,

Yes, yes I know. It’s been a while. Apologies for having left you out in the cold, wondering what happened to that odd, mouthy Aussie who wrote about cars n’ stuff.

The good news is that I’m still alive and kicking and, indeed, kicking much stronger than previously.

Since June I’ve been in the pleasant employ of Sense Worldwide in London, applying my strategic skillz to a whole range of industries, finance, telco and pharma inclusive. Fret not however, dear fellow petrol-fueled reader, I am still just as passionate about cars and trying to understand where the car industry is going to wind up. I’ve just been enjoying focussing a little more on the “n’ stuff” part of the DSU equation.

So now that I’m a little more bedded in to London life, I’m going to be a more regular feature around here. The mix of input might be a little more eclectic than before but, as in the past, it’d be lovely if y’all stayed along for the ride.

Much love,


(image: Drew Smith)

Citroen turns 90 with nary a Xantia or Xsara in sight (thank god)

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.

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]

BMW Project-i for Isetta

Way back in March I wrote a piece discussing BMW’s Project-i. In it (you can read it here), I roused on BMW for taking such a high-minded approach in describing the project.

I also suggested that if they wanted to provide new forms of popular (as in “for the people”) urban transport, the wonderful Isetta brand was ripe for the picking, leaving the precious BMW unimpeached.

Lo and behold, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer has just announced that the vehicular outcomes of Project-i will be marketed under a sub-brand called… well, we still don’t know for sure yet. But take a look at the wonderfully feel-good, BMW-produced video above and there’s no prize for guessing what it will be.

Thanks to @bjkraal for the RT from @tmrnews:

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


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]

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.