Fourth industrial revolution, Democratic design, Interface, Design methodology

‘Platforms, production and practice’

In automotive design, a platform is traditionally used to describe the underlying chassis structure upon which a car is designed. The move by all mainstream automakers towards shared platform architecture, whereby multiple vehicles could be derived from a single engineered structure, was a key development of the mid to late 20th century. Driven by economic efficiencies and risk reduction, this transition signalled an evolution from fordist to ‘neo-fordist’ production methods. This had profound impact upon the automotive design process, which became increasingly concerned with differentiation. For contemporary context, a similar approach has been taken for the design of digital interface elements for vehicle interiors, such as the Human Machine Interface.

Architectural theorists Tattara and Vittorio Aureli expand the writing of Jørn Utzon, who codifies the platform as an architectural method to define inter-spacial relationships, to note the ability of the platform to “enable and restrict what happens upon it”, and its embodiment of institutional power. The term platform finds frequent contemporary use to describe digital marketplaces which provide access to goods, services, or content. Within the context of the fourth industrial revolution, which Schwab describes as intersecting the physical, digital, and biological spheres, platforms act as interfaces.

The automotive platform fails to acknowledge its political agency. The conceptualisation of a new platform is disconnected from the design practice that it predicates, largely restricting the scope of the latter to something dictated by the platform upon which it sits. Might this power imbalance limit the ability of contemporary practice to deliver the flexibility of use required by 21st century mobility? How could the reframing of the platform as an intrinsic part of the design process also democratise it and would this require a reappraisal of the role of the designer?