Autonomous Vehicles, Design Methodology, Post-Fordist, Discrete

Presentation June 2019 ‘‘I didn’t reference a single book in my dissertation’: a discussion of the challenges faced when undertaking critical research within a design discipline which does not have a strong academic tradition.’

Thesis working abstract at time of presentation

The mainstream adoption of autonomous vehicles and related mobility services will be the automotive industry’s defining challenge of the 21st century. For the automotive design profession the shift from a traditional ‘driver first’ mentality towards a ‘passenger centred’ focus whereby journey experience is central to the design process is critical. Interior spaces will be required to offer radically new functionality and emotional engagement to define the relationship between person and brand. Through a practice based research model this PhD seeks to understand current automotive design process, before experimenting with methodologies from other disciplines to create a vehicle interior design process that places passenger experience as central.

Presentation abstract

Automotive Design (AD) academics are an endangered species. Unfortunately this is largely a problem of our own making. AD education is overwhelmingly dedicated to the teaching of vocational skills. Similarly most academic research seeks to engage on an artefactual as opposed to theoretical basis. The absence of an active critical discourse within AD is in part demonstrated by the lack of literature available on the topic of AD process. An alternative literature review approach has been developed, first building case studies of autonomous mobility concepts, cross referencing visual analysis with publicly available information to provide insight into design process. A primary research phase is being undertaken, interviewing design managers and thematically reviewing their responses to build an understanding of where interior design currently sits within wider AD process. This is supported by an illustrated storyboard survey method to help designers not used to verbalising methodologies demonstrate their process.

Design theorist Gregory Votolato describes the AD industry as a “closed shop”, which suggests to the ‘small-c’ conservative nature of the AD world. This condition is the result of a myriad of political, social and economic factors, however the leading cause is the unchallenged dominance of Fordist models, which impose cyclical production schedules that do not favour experimentation or flexibility. These models of production not only dictate AD process but also permeate throughout AD culture. To achieve the ‘passenger centred’ aim will likely require a degree of flexibility in production Fordism cannot provide. Simultaneous development of electric propulsion technology enables radically different vehicle architecture, whilst ride-sharing or ‘mobility as a service’ challenges traditional models of ownership. Similar conclusions have been drawn in architecture and Post-Fordist models are being developed. The ‘Discrete’ model may provide the flexibility required whilst also helping to address the lack of critical discourse within AD.