Text: Jens Persson
/ Images: Jens
Designing for a major car company typically requires
exhaustive user research based on a broad range of target groups.
But what happens if you create a vehicle with just one specific
person in mind?
A couple of months ago, TD1 students, in a collaboration with
Honda, embarked on an unconvential automotive design project. The
brief was to understand the inner values, needs and aspirations of
an individual user. The end goal? To propose a fully-fledged
automotive concept for the electric vehicle market in 2030.
Divided in groups of two, the students were assigned to choose
one specific individual to design for. They were given three sets
of criteria at the outset: country, age and gender. Then began the
quest for that special user that could inspire a journey towards a
different type of vehicle, while also acting as a figurative
vehicle for their combined design visions.
Fanny Jonsson teamed up with fellow student Dong Hao to create
the electric vehicle concept Honda Ember.
"We quickly realized that when designing for one particular
individual the process becomes driven more by emotion than
function. Soon, you find yourself describing your design goals
through emotional metaphors. For me, it definitely sparked creative
processes that I will try to use going forward. In that sense, it
really was an eye-opening project", says Fanny Jonsson.
Dong Hao in the clay
model workshop shaping the interior of the Honda Ember.
Fanny and Dong were given the following criteria: 30-35 years,
Norwegian and female. They ended up choosing Gunn Narten, a
firefighter with a rather public profile in her native Norway.
Their initial ideation phase was based largely on Gunn's well-known
profile as an active, outdoorsy explorer. But the tutors at Honda
kept asking Fanny and Hong to dig deeper.
"We managed to map Gunn's key characteristics rather quickly. At
least that's what we thought. But as we continued to do delve
deeper, a different person surfaced. Her key values turned out to
revolve more around caring for others and her pursuit of spiritual
relief through nature. Of course, we did end up designing a hiking
car. But our goals where not defined by the conventional
characteristics of an off-road vehicle. Our guiding metaphor
throughout the project ended up being a camp fire, a place that is
a safe where you can interact with your loved ones", says Fanny
The allure of the interior
For most modern car designers, the design opportunities offered
by electric vehicles far outweigh the ones presented by traditional
vehicles that run on petrol. Simply for the fact that the
electrical engine doesn't pose the same restrictions when it comes
to size and placement. Particularly interior designers are given
more freedoms to design the central space of the vehicle, as it is
not confined to either side of a large combustion engine.
Lu Tao, another TD1 student, discovered the allure of interior
car design a couple of years ago. It turned out to be a decisive
experience that would eventually lead her to Sweden and Umeå
Institute of Design.
Lu Tao during the final
presentation of her PRISM concept.
"I actually did my BFA in product design. During one course I
got to try car design for one or two workshops. First, I
experimented with the exterior but then I got the chance to start
designing the interior of the car. Immediately, I felt that this
was for me. It's so close to people. For me, the most important
part of the car experience is once you're inside the vehicle.
That's almost all the time you spend with a car", says Lu Tao, who
created the concept PRISM together with Kristian Talvite.
"With electric vehicles the possibilities for a designer are
expanding even more. As cars become more and more autonomous the
interior of cars will also change and evolve. Vehicles are perhaps
closer to people than they sometimes think. It is an intimate space
or room that can really transmit a certain feeling or create a
truly intimate atmosphere. This is something that I tried to convey
in my design for our PRISM concept"
As cars change, the people who aspire to design them also
change. The gas-guzzling muscle cars that long symbolized the peak
of the industry are likely to fade into the background as new
concepts for future transportation evolve. Recent developments in
autonomous driving, electric vehicles and shared mobility are
already revolutionizing the way car companies see themselves.
For Fanny Jonsson, the ongoing seismic shift in the
transportation industry is precisely why she wants to become a car
designer. For her, it's a unique opportunity to be part of the
solution, not the problem.
Fanny Jonsson, in
front of her Honda Ember poster during the final
"I will probably never design a single combustion engine
vehicle. And that's a good thing! Going forward, I will likely be
designing electric vehicles in some shape or form. And EV cars open
up so many possibilities. For example, the silhouette of the car
doesn't have to be the same. It gives you an opportunity to
question the proportions of a vehicle and what you can actually do
as a designer".
"But my main reason for becoming a transportation designer
actually relates to sustainability and trying to be part of a green
revolution within the transportation industry. I want to understand
and explore what these new infrastructures of transportation
systems are going to be", concludes Fanny Jonsson.