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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

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…

Transformator’s Design Research Guide

I’ve just seen the beginnings of a great design research guide put together by Swedish strategic design bureau Transformator.

Covering different research processes and methods, it breaks design research down into language (sometimes quaintly Swedified) that mere mortal designers can understand and make use of. If you haven’t thought about doing some hard-core research work since your god-forsaken design research classes at uni. then the guide will help you ask ‘why’?, ‘where?’, ‘when?’, ‘how?’ and, most importantly ‘what if…?’ in a structured, useful way.

In a state of continuous development, it’s well worth a browse and a bookmark.

[Source: Tranformator DESIGN RESEARCH GUIDE ]

One for the UTS Crew: Design Brief Writing

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Came across this guide to design brief writing yesterday on the Design Sojourn blog.

Given you guys have got a brief due next week, some of the advice here might help you to round things out a bit.

Brian covers the following:

  • Creating an elevator pitch (which we’ll actually be covering in your Strategy for Commercialisation Project)
  • Establishing a hierarchy of needs
  • Communicating the key benefits you expect to implement
  • Establishing the context of your design project
  • Detailing your production methods

Read the full post here and follow Design Sojourn’s author, Brian (an award winning industrial designer and strategist working with asian electronics manufacturers from Singapore and Sydney), on Twitter @designsojourn

[As a disclaimer, this info shouldn’t replace what we’ve talked about in the lectures. Just use it to broaden your knowledge of the art of writing a brief, hmmkay?]

My First Interview ™

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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!

Retour ahead: shifting the personal mobility paradigm

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Mark Charmer over at Re*Move has just published a great piece on the current state of the car industry and offers a suggestion as to where it might head in order to survive.

Most interesting was Mark’s observation about the generational change in attitudes towards owning cars:

New technologies change how and why we move, too… . Today, our lives are often half physical, half virtual. The Facebook generation has new ways to demonstrate its individuality without buying a Clio or a Focus or an MX-5. We interact differently and spend differently – and this is going to change more in future than it has already.

This change in modes of expression and the subsequent impact on mobility and spending patterns is something I’ve recently debated at length.

Some have suggested that we need to find ways to get current and future generations to fall in love with buying cars again. It’s argued that the creation of new automotive icons will once again make owning a car desirable, similar to the effect of the Model T, Beetle, 2CV and Golf in the 20th century. Although the positive impact of mass personal mobilisation can not be underestimated, it was the unchecked expansion of an ownership model that has contributed to our current environmental and financial predicament.

I’ve been arguing that we need to move to a more democratic model of distributed ownership or rental. Mark further consolidates and builds on this argument. In doing so, he calls for the design community at large to join in and effect fundamental change on the personal mobility paradigm. It’s an exciting proposition that still takes into account our love of personal mobility while minimising the negatives.

Head on over to Re*Move to check out the rest.

[Photo: Mark Charmer]

Where fashion goes, cars may follow

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Just read this really interesting extract from an interview with Simon Collins, the Dean of Fashion at Parsons where he talks about the impact of the recession on fashion.

Am I alone in thinking that what he says could be easily be translated into rationalising some of the largesse of the car industry?

“The biggest challenge was the biggest opportunity with designers eschewing big runway shows into a static exhibition. This in tandem with an internet presence is a more modern way of working and I think we’ll see much more of it.

A lot of the rubbish will be swept away. We are going to focus on brands with real integrity. There was a much more intelligence to the merchandising of the lines. There was the same level of creativity but less window dressing and more focus on salable items.”

His comments regarding shows is particularly pertinent given the impending Salon de Geneve. Yes, I will be there (hopefully) enjoying my three course lunch with champagne at Audi, I’ll admit. But what if car makers moved away from the massive cost of running their motor show stands and introduced new product like Apple will, who has decided to not continue with their traditional MacWorld keynotes?

Read the rest of this entry »

Degree Show Review: Pforzheim Winter 09

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A couple of weeks ago I visited Pforzheim for the first time to see the transportation design school’s winter show. It’s always a fascinating experience visiting other design schools and seeing the different approaches schools take in preparing students for the professional world. This show had a particular poignancy knowing how many of the younger professionals are being laid off at the moment. Automotive design, at the best of times, is a difficult career to break in to and it’s not getting any easier for some time to come. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s not a sedan, it’s not an SUV, it’s not an estate…it’s a hatchback!

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It’s out! BMW’s new Progressive Activity Sedan (also known as the 5 Series GT or Gran Turismo) was revealed in a private view last night and the folks over at BMWBlog got the scoop. You might remember this as the car, the launch video of which I lampooned last week for spending three minutes saying the car wasn’t an MPV. And it’s not. It’s something almost as poisonous to the premium buyer: a hatchback.

 To be honest, its mix of Concpet CS, new 7 Series and and an immensely long wheelbase don’t upset me as much as I thought it would. You could certainly never argue that the thing lacks presence and the double opening hatch is an interesting if unoriginal idea. It did strike me that the angle of access, combined with the intrusion of the open lid, makes me think it will be a little awkward to use. At this point it seems that the similar system found on Skoda’s Superb is better resolved and more useful.

And there in lies the problem, this car counts only the Skoda Superb as a typological brother, hardly the company you want to keep if you’re BMW. The PAS is trying to be a premium hatchback and the last “premium” hatch I can remember…oh, hang on, I can’t. “Aha!” you say, “therein lies the secret to BMW’s success! Nobody has done this before!” Well they have.

Opel/Vauxhall used to produce the Signum, a similarly long-wheelbased hatch which was also designed to offer the difference between “economy and first class” (although in their case it was probably the difference between Air Congo and premium economy) and Skoda produces the aforementioned Superb (which is, actually, pretty superb for the money). However, neither of these cars will ever compete with the likes of E-Classes, A6s and A7s and their brands make sure of that. BMW is going in to battle in one of the most conservative market sectors out there and I’m not convinced people will be seduced out of their premium SUVs, sedans and wagons by an expensive rep-mobile.

Just picture this thing on the school run, driven by a yummy mummy who’s propped it on the kerb outside the prep school…

I’m not saying that a product type can’t turn premium overnight. The original Range Rover did it. But it was a able to do so because Land Rover and the types of vehicle they produced had always been associated with a certain class in English society, creating a strong aspirational pull. BMW might have the upper middle class pulling power, but hatchbacks have never been associated with aristocracy or celebrity, only with Ron the sales manager pounding the M25…

Head on over to BMWBlog to see more pics.

[Image and Source: BMWBlog]

Yes, yes, YES! This is a DS!

This also happens to have just been named as the “Most Beautiful Car of All Time” by Classic & Sportscar.

The result wasn’t gleaned from any old survey of C&S readers, either. The panel of 20 included Ian Callum (Jaguar XK), Marcello Gandini (Lamborghini Cuntach, Lanica Stratos), Leonardo Fioravanti (Ferraris Datona, Dino and 308GTB) and the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro (Fiat Panda, VW Golf Mk 1, Lotus Esprit).

Amongst them, these boys have designed some of the most beautiful and iconic vehicles of the 20th and 21st century (other than the DS) so for all to agree that the DS is tops is a recommendation that comes with megaton weight behind it.

Sadly, the story has a downside:

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Look at this modern “DS” and tell me with a straight face that it in any way lives up to the beauty and mystique of the original. I dare you… No, I didn’t think so.

Let us raise our glasses to post-humously congratulate the Citroen of 1955, Flaminio Bertoni and his beautiful Déesse  and wish the Citroen of 2009 the best as they learn to play with branding fire.

Classic & Sportscar via Car Body Design.

The March of the Wireframes

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I’ve been meaning to post about this wicked chair for a while now but have only just got around to finding some support material for the post.

This creation came from the mind of a young Korean designer, Jaebeom Jeong, and is the first in a series of wireframe pieces he’s working on.

To give credit where credit is due, Jaebeom is not the first guy to play around with this notion. Thomas Raschke has been working in the same realm (with a more complex, less visually sophisticated outcome) since the early 00s and I first came across this type of work when Intersection covered the work of Benedict Radcliffe. Am I sensing a trend here? It’s Benedict’s work I want to close with because it’s all about cars and it looks, in a word, wicked.

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(Images:  Jaebeom JeongBenedict Radcliffe)

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.