Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Car Culture, Collaboration, Design, Design Strategy, Social Media, Things I like, Web, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Quote of the Day

“This is a non-rational business. It’s not irrational. But it’s not necessary for anyone to get a new car—almost ever.”

Jerry Hirshberg, former president of Nissan Design International


When Jerry Hirshberg uttered these words in an interview with Gary Vasilash of Automotive Design and Production back in 2002 he was fresh from taking part in a highly successful product renaissance at Nissan. He was at the height of his powers: making consumers fall in love with a product that they didn’t need.

Hirshberg was the guy that, when Nissan had sunk to a financial and creative low in the late 90’s, suggested reviving the Z. Clearly he knows how to pull at consumer heart strings to get a return on investment.

I don’t think we will ever eviscerate emotion from the car/human equation but what if the emotions we feel in relation to cars change? Imagine, for a minute, if automotive brands could no longer leverage power, size, opulence and selfishness as their emotional draw cards, but instead had to appeal with intelligence, authenticity, longevity and real value. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Eco, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is it about China?


I’ve spent most of the day thinking about my earlier post on the BMW 5 GT concept that broke cover overnight.

It’s occurred to me that, somewhat foolishly, I’ve been looking at the market positioning from an extremely Euro-centric position.

What if BMW is taking a similar tack that they took, perhaps inadvertently, with the previous generation 7 series?

A car that initially tanked in Europe on the basis of it’s looks , the old 7 went gangbusters in the Chinese market. It also signalled a shift in BMW’s understanding of it’s future market. This shift was confirmed by the launch of the Concept CS as the Shanghai motor show (as opposed to a show in their traditional European heartland) and the somewhat lesser known introduction of a LWB (long wheel base) 5 Series sedan exclusively for the Chinese market.

In 2006 I completed my Masters thesis in automotive design and although the main thrust of my research was something else, I spent a good deal of my time coming to understand Chinese taste in the premium car market. One of the characteristics of the emerging haute-bourgoisie is the desire to be driven (having seen traffic in Hong Kong, I can understand why). And with the desire to be driven, less focus is placed on BMWs old maxim of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and instead we start looking at the Ultimate Driven Machine.

And in this respect, as the new press images from BMW show, the GT will indeed be ultimate in the traffic choked streets of Asia’s cities. Masses of rear leg-room and stupendous head room within a package that won’t be unwieldy in traffic (unlike a LWB 7 series). Indeed, looking at the pictures, I imagine you probably would have to go to that size vehicle to get similar rear-cabin room.

 The vehicle I designed back in ’06 aimed to recreate a limousine experience within 5 meters, reclining seats and all. The 5 GT is 4998mm long and provides the same rear cabin experience as a LWB 7 which is a full 212mm longer. Maybe I was on to something…

My doubts about the car’s success in the European market still stands, but if China is indeed the target, who cares about fighting the same old scrappy battle the German premiums always fight. BMW just jumped out of the ring and found a new playground.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What a shame…


Never has one brand been so irrelevant and downright disingenuous as Hummer. Their product is not clever, it is not well made and it’s not even attractive (sometimes a saving grace for me). The news that production of the H2 is being stopped for a minimum of 2 months had me almost jumping for joy. Lets hope the minimum is just that and I never again have to see one of these things sitting in a dealership waiting for some prig to buy it.

If I were GM, would I offload Hummer? No, I’d turn it arse-about-tit and make it into a vanguard of sustainable, all-terrain transport. Will it happen? Not bloody likely…

Jalopnik: Carpocalypse Now: Hummer H2 Plant Halts Production.

Filed under: Car, Design Strategy, Eco, Things I like, , ,

Objectified: Industrial Design Receiving the Honour it Deserves

I’m amused at the number of times I have to explain to people what industrial design is. Those same people are amazed in return when they realise that most of the “stuff” they interact with on a daily basis that isn’t a building or nature (and sometimes even the buildings too) is the result of some kind of industrial design process.

In recognition of the profound changes that industrial design has effected on our lives, Gary Hustwit has created Objectified. The movie takes a look at  the remarkable minds and processes behind the creation of some of the most iconic products of the the 20th and 21st century. With a participant list that reads like a coffee table design book: Chris Bangle (BMW), Tim Brown (IDEO), Naoto Fukasawa, Jonathan Ive (Apple), Dieter Rams, Karim Rashid…the list goes on, it will present, I hope, a wonderfully diverse collection of views about design. Even our own Marc Newson gets a look in!

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this movie! Check out the site.

P.S Who knew Jonny Ive was so handsome!?

Objectified: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit.

Filed under: Apple, Design, Philosophy, Things I like, , , , ,

Bike Exif, for my bike loving readers.

Norton Thruxton Club Racer

Just got wind of this new blog dedicated to the more design-obsessed side of the biking world. And it comes from the mother country (well, my mother country) too! Bike Exif is not all about stats and cockwaving contests of a performance nature. No, just like me, it takes a critical, design focused look at some of the wonderful two-wheeled creations out there. Check it out: Bike Exif

P.S Their motto is “Loud pipes save lives”. I couldn’t agree more.

(Image: Bike Exif)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Stark, Conran and Kirstie Allsopp on design. This is gonna be great.


I recently read a three way interview, conducted by The Guardian’s Caroline Roux, between Philipe Starck (he of obscenely useless lemon juicers), Sir Terrence Conran (he of obscene business versatility) and Kirstie Allsopp (she of numerous obscenely annoying TV shows such as Relocation, Relocation etc.). What struck me was how vacuous a lot of the commentary seemed. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Design, Things I Hate, , , ,

Pico-projection as public art…or annoyance

A couple of days ago I posted about the amazing work of EasyWeb and their public projection installations. This serves as a follow up for those of us who can’t afford the super-expensive gear and can’t secure the rights to project onto the whole facade of some sublime building.

You may have heard about pico projection recently. It’s the latest buzz phrase in the mobile tech industry and the concept behind it is to make projection pocketable.

This is the show-reel of one of the guys developing the tech at Microvision and it demonstrates some pretty awesome effects and situations that can be achieved with something not much larger than a mobile phone.

The only question it raises for me is: will this become the new mobile phone loudspeaker? The only difference being that instead of music blaring out in the bus/train/mall from some young lout’s phone, it’ll be the latest horror/porn/brainless comedy flick being projected onto the walls of public spaces every where. The guys over at Digital Urban seem pretty excited but I’m not so sure it’s going to play out how they would like.

It’s a tech with so many creative possibilities but I’m afraid that in the hands of the wrong people, visual pollution is going to take on a whole new meaning…

More cool examples over at The Pico Underground

(Source: The Pico Underground)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Altering the perception of 3D form…

Simply awesome… if any of you are familiar with my final project at Coventry you’ll know I was working on a similar concept. To see those ideas made real in super size is just phenomenal.

(Source: Digital Urban)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Someone has been drinking the Opelaid.

Is it me or do the front clips of these two cars look decidedly similar?  The prominent, 5 sided grille on a central plinth? The trapezoidal lamps that break over the top surface of the wing? The three element lower intake? Even the little surface underlining the base of the headlamps is remarkably similar.

On the left we have the Chrysler 200C EV Concept from the Detroit show and on the right we have the new (as in now in production) Opel Insignia.

One is a vision of where a brand wants to be. The other is a testament to where a brand is now, based on a vision that’s maybe 5 years old now.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Chrysler is a bad looking car (in fact, elements of it are downright sexy, the lovely interior in particular). It’s just that I would have liked to see a much stronger, forward looking statement about the future of Chrysler, especially give their current financial situation.

 I breathed an epic sigh of relief when I saw that they had finally ditched the baroque/kitsch theme that has done them such a disservice over the last few years but such an homage (intentional or not) to just another average, mid-sized car (that is already on the market) seems like an opportunity missed for the team in Aubern Hills.

Designers: we’re looking for signs of energy, confidence and an eye fixed firmly on the future, not competent me-too-ism!

Filed under: Car, Chrysler, Concept, Detroit, Motor Shows, , , , , , , ,

About DownsideUpDesign

I'm Drew Smith and I'm a freelance design strategist and journalist for the automotive industry. DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. Get in touch at downsideupdesigner (at) me (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.