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The Automotive Design

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The Automotive Design essay

Table of contents

  1. New Digital Technologies and Trends
  2. The Role of Emotion
  3. The Role of Context
  4.  Research Questions
  5. Thesis Structure

By the early 20th century, the evolution of automotive design had begun to reshape human mobility needs about convenience and comfort (Damiani, Deregibus and Andreone, 2009; Spinney, Reimer and Pinch, 2017). With the production of the Ford Model T in 1908, commoditised and affordable automobiles became widely available for more people (Eckermann, 2001). From the late 1920s onwards, automotive design started to be developed as a separate discipline from general Industrial Design, which is the process of designing and manufacturing a product in quantity (Sparke, 2002). Automotive design has evolved alongside interplay between different parts of automobiles such as engineering, performance and form (Sparke, 2002).

In the 20th century, as automobiles became symbolic icons of upper-class status, elegant design, styling and aesthetics became key aspects of the automobile design process (Inserra, 2017). This was reflected in experimentation with multi-coloured exteriors in the 1950s. In the 1980s, interior design and ergonomics began to be taken more seriously, as well as new concerns with safety and fuel efficiency (Inserra, 2017). The technical specifications of the new models of cars, which upgraded their performance, have also been a primary focus of the competition among automotive manufacturers (Spinney, Reimer and Pinch, 2017). This is also reflected in the shift in the words used to describe the most important attributes of cars in the 20th century, from words like ‘distinctive’, ‘elegant’, and ‘sportive’ to ‘safe’, ‘friendly’ and ‘environmental compatibility’ (Damiani, Deregibus and Andreone, 2009).

In the beginning of the 21st century, the proliferation of computing and digital technology accelerated the growth of the Internet and mobile technology (Digital Preservation Management, 2015). With the evolution of advanced digital features in the automobile, the concept of ‘in-car connectivity’ was introduced in the 21st century (Damiani, Deregibus and Andreone, 2009). The focus of automotive research has also started to shift, requiring interdisciplinary approaches towards driving experience (Spinney, Reimer and Pinch, 2017).

New Digital Technologies and Trends

The automotive industry, triggered by new digital technologies, has transformed rapidly (Barra, 2016). With the benefit of GPS technologies, the introduction of GM’s OnStar system in 1996, which enabled automobiles to be linked to information streams and services, opened up the new concept of connected automobiles to enhance the driving experience (Nobel, 2013). Safety services, such as live concierge services in emergency situations, began to be available over the phone, with sensors embedded into the vehicle (Grabianowski, 2009).

By the mid-2000s, the rapid growth of smartphones expanded the capabilities of connectivity, introducing infotainment applications within the car (Massy, 2007). Access to any entertainment content through the driver’s ‘brought-in’ phone within the car has amplified drivers’ in-vehicle experience (Microsoft News Center, 2012). Connected vehicles have evolved beyond the advanced integration of digital technologies into automobiles – they can now communicate and share data not only with smart devices but also with infrastructure, in which multiple sensors are embedded (Ninan et al., 2015). McKinsey (2013) has forecasted that the number of Internet-connected automobiles will rise on average by 30 percent a year until 2020, while the number of traditional automobiles will only increase four percent a year on average in the same period. One in five automobiles will wirelessly connect to the network by 2020 (Davidson, 2015), so that various network-based services, such as Internet radio, information, entertainment and driver-assistance apps, will be available within automobiles.

With the growth of in-car connectivity, automated driving is considered to be one of the major potential shifts in the automotive industry, due to its estimated huge impact on economy and society, as well as on automotive technological developments itself (Milakis, Arem and Wee, 2017). The annual economic and social benefit of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could be approximately 
£51 billion, generating over 30,000 jobs by 2030 (KPMG, 2015) (Figure 1). It could impact on growth in the GDP and prevent serious accidents in the UK. It is estimated that the market for CAVs in the UK will be worth £28bn by 2035, capturing 3% of the £907bn global market (Transport Systems Catapult, 2017). In addition, the recent forecasting has estimated that, by 2027, all UK produced vehicles will have at least conditional automated technologies, and this is estimated to progressively reach 25% penetration of full automation by 2030 (KPMG, 2015). Figure 1 Economic and social impact of connected and autonomous vehicles (adapted from KPMG, 2015). The evolution of the connected car and rapid developments of automated driving has shaped the role of the automobile from that of a ‘passive transport machine’ for moving from point A to B, to that of a ‘smart object’ (Eichler, Schroth, and Eberspächer, 2006).

The concept of ‘automobile’ is said to have shifted from hardware to software, and from object to experience (Rousseau, 2015). Research claims that advances in digital devices have enhanced mobility, adding multiple purposes such as communication, entertainment, leisure and business (Moore, 2012). As a consequence, people’s attitudes towards automobile ownership and travel have changed (Moore, 2012; McKinsey & Company, 2013). Due to the frequent use of digital devices during transit, automobiles no longer appear to be perceived as a remote space in people’s lives (Gellatly et al., 2010). The term ‘automotive habitat’ has on occasion been used to indicate the modern automobile’s role as a socially interactive environment (Gkatzidou, Giacomin and Skrypchuk, 2016).

Rising new target group in the vehicle market have massively influenced the shifts in the automotive industry (Koushik and Mehl, 2015). Millennials, who were born between 1977 and 1994 (Williams and Page, 2011), have become the fastest growing buyer segment (Kurylko, 2017). According to data from J.D Power and Associates’ Power Information Network, last year, 4.1 million vehicles were sold to millennials in the United States and it is predicted that they are likely to represent around 40 percent of the U.S. new-vehicle market by 2020 (Kurylko, 2017). There is a major difference in attitudes towards automobiles between the baby boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964 (Williams and Page, 2011) and millennials. While for the baby boomer generation, owning a car was regarded as a symbol of identity expressing status, millennials have more pragmatic perspectives on consumption (Warton, 2017). This is shown in the phrase ‘Rent, Stream, and Experience’ (Bradshaw, 2014), which encapsulates the preferences of millennials – the ability to experience in a way that fulfils their desires matters to millennials rather than owning goods (Niewiadomski and Anderson, 2017).

The shift towards human experience from functional needs in automotive design (see Figure 2) suggests a direction for future automotive design. Figure 2 Automotive Design Evolution (adapted from UVM, 2011). As expressed in the phrase, ‘We don’t just use technology; we live with it’ (McCarthy and Wright, 2004), an automobile is deeply, emotionally and intellectually embedded in day-to-day life. A deep understanding of human experience (Norman, 2013) is required to capture how positively people remember their engagement with automobiles. As it is impossible to design the experience itself, which is a subjective value, the main focus should be designing experience scaffolds on which people can have their own pleasant experience in automotive context. Due to its personal dependent nature (Kim, 2015), experience can only be designed through a deep understanding of a story shaped by individual’s emotions, thoughts and actions within a context (Dewey, 1980; Desmet and Hekkert, 2007; Hassenzahl, 2010).

The Role of Emotion

For designing a pleasant experience, understanding human emotions is one of the most significant components (McCarthy and Wright (2004; Desmet and Hekkert, 2007). Emotion plays an integral role in various aspects of human experience that interconnects human thoughts, attitudes and behaviours (Gomez, Popovic and Blackler, 2011; Hanington, 2017). According to Epstein (1994), while the rational system of processing information in humans is driven by logic, the experiential system of processing information is driven by emotions. Psychologists have proven that, when humans have an experience, their emotional system triggers their thoughts and actions (Nass et al., 2005). Therefore, it is impossible to view emotion as an entity that is independent of cognitive processing or physical interaction (Hanington, 2017). The consideration of emotions is therefore paramount to creating pleasurable and positive experiences for people (Gkouskos, Chen, 2012).

In the 1980s, emotion appeared implicitly in research into aspects of product meaning, semantics and enjoyable experiences (Csikszentmihalyi 1981; Krippendorff and Butter, 1984). The holistic human view of design and the recognition of emotion gradually became apparent in the field of ‘user experience’, a term first coined by Norman in 1995. Subsequently, the emergence of complex consumer electronics technology shifted the primary focus in the early human-computer interaction (HCI) field from functional views of technology to the emotional impact of interaction with technology products (Hanington, 2017). Emotional experience has continuously been perceived and accepted as a critical aspect for designs to successfully take into account human needs and desires (Jordan 2000; Picard and Wexelblat, 2002; Hanington, 2017). Previous studies in design have highlighted the importance of emotion by suggesting major elements that can impact on emotional experience. Jordan (2000) proposes four pleasures – the physical, psychological, sociological, and ideological – that can contribute to emotional experience.

According to his theory (Jordan, 2000), the emotional benefits from the four pleasures can be fulfilled based on both functionality and usability, which are people’s most basic expectations from a product. Gomez, Popovic and Bucolo (2004) suggest critical factors that can compose emotional experience: user, artefact, activity and context. Figure 4 illustrates that the interaction between a human and a product is mediated by the context, which forms the overall experience. It also suggests that emotions related to each activity or task performed by the individual within a context can influence the overall experience. Figure 4 User-artefact-activity within context forms experience (adapted from Gomez, Popovic and Bucolo, 2004).

The significance of emotional experience has been demonstrated in the complex in-car driving context through the use of advanced digital technologies. Drivers are likely to be influenced by various pieces of information from digital technologies, which affect their emotional state, with possible impacts on behaviour and safety (Foen 2012). Research (Lajunen and Parker 2001; Foen 2012) suggests that drivers are more likely to make risky decisions when negatively affected by emotions such as anger or frustration, potentially leading to accidents. Beyond issues of driving performance and driving safety, Sheller (2003) argues for the importance of emotional responses towards determining an individual’s car purchases, driving habits and lifestyle choices. For the purpose of building a strong relationship with new potential buyers – such as millennials fulfilling their needs and desires – this research focuses on the systematic investigation and adaption of an appropriate design approach focusing on emotion.

The Role of Context

Scenarios In order to ultimately uncover meanings, desires and needs, this research was guided by, and is designed, according to the human centred design principle – starting with the lower levels of the values in the pyramid (Giacomin, 2014) – and then into a person’s life as it relates to automotive experience.

With respect to the appropriateness of tools in this research, the following criteria were considered:

  • to capture human needs and requirements that involve emotions as well as physical, sociological and environmental aspects to an automobile
  • to illustrate human experience in the form of a story from a person’s point of view

A design scenario is considered to be the most appropriate tools for this research. The use of a scenario for design can provide more opportunities to investigate a person’s day-to-day life through a story that explores the experience of a product or service from a person’s point of view (Goodwin, 2010). As the story illustrates an overall experience that can embrace events, situations, activities, and interaction between people and an artefact (Carroll, 2000), and emotions play a fundamental role in human experience (Gomez, Popovic and Blackler, 2011; Hanington, 2017), it may ultimately contribute to unveiling meanings and needs within various contexts that involve emotional aspects. In the automotive domain, however, scenarios have frequently been used for testing automotive systems, which perform highly functional tasks related to driver and vehicle performance (Burnett, 2009; Stevens and Burnett, 2014).

Typical automotive scenarios provide traffic and environmental conditions and driving context to evaluate the functions and performance of all specifications in a particular situation (Safespot, 2006). A number of automotive studies have applied scenarios for system performance testing, such as pre-collision systems (Chien et al., 2014) or embedded systems integration (Davis, Patron and Lane, 2007). However, concerns have been voiced regarding whether existing automotive scenarios help to answer automotive design questions, which are emotional, psychological or sociological in nature (Gkatzidou, Giacomin and Skrypchuk, 2016). Further, it has been noted (Gkouskos, Normark and Lundgren, 2014) that current standardised automotive scenarios seem to be of little benefit to the design of automotive products, systems or services, due to their strong technical and task-based focus. Although a consideration of emotional aspects has been highlighted as being part of the success of any product and service design, including those of an automobile (Dupré et al., 2012; Gkouskos and Chen, 2012), such aspects have been considered to be less important in automotive scenarios. The available standardised design scenarios for automotive design involving various human emotional aspects does not adequately fulfil the expectations and growing demand for digital connectivity, or manage the challenges of a complex automotive environment.

Therefore, further research investigating people’s life stories that trigger emotional responses in the automotive context is required. Awareness of the importance and current limitations of design scenarios in the field of automotive design motivates this research investigation. Through this research, the human centred design approach will be better able to support the automotive field, facilitate its uptake by automotive practitioners for testing or evaluating automotive products, system and service concepts, and inform the design of affective automotive scenarios.

 Research Questions

The research described in this thesis was motivated by the belief that human-focused automotive scenarios can be used to answer automotive design questions that involve emotional, psychological or sociological aspects.

Some of the key research questions involved are:

  • What are the key components of design scenarios?
  • How can a scenario be developed in a complete and rigorous manner?
  • What are the affective scenarios that describe emotional experience in various automotive contexts?
  • How can automotive affective scenarios be implemented to test an automotive product, system or product concept?

The aim of the research is to develop automotive design scenarios that involve humans’ emotional responses. In order to achieve the aim and to answer the key research questions, the following research objectives were formulated:

  • (OB1) To identify key requirements of automotive scenarios by identifying human desires regarding automotive experience in a complex digital environment;
  • (OB2) To provide an operational definition of scenarios and a scenario development process through the analysis and synthesis of the relevant literature reviews on scenarios;
  • (OB3) To develop automotive affective scenarios related to current automotive contexts based on the analysis of emotional responses;
  • (OB4) To evaluate the research outcomes, using the proposed scenarios to test an automotive concept.

Thesis Structure

The research in this thesis was designed and conducted in three phases: definition, development and evaluation. Each phase was the subject of a major study. The first phase includes a literature review of the concept of scenarios and preliminary interviews on human desires in an automotive context. The second phase includes preliminary workshops on automotive scenarios, and wide-scale online and face-to-face inquiries in a controlled simulator context. The third phase of the thesis contains an evaluation of the research outcome, discusses research limitations and suggests potential applications for future automotive design. The thesis comprises nine chapters that describe the research process undertaken to formulate the automotive affective design scenarios and their evaluation.

Chapters 1 through 9 are summarised as follows:

  • Chapter 1 provides an overview of the historical trends in automotive design, new digital technology and trends, design approaches and human centred design tools for accommodating new trends and the importance of design scenario towards the automotive design. Research questions, aim and objectives and an overview of the thesis structure are addressed.
  • Chapter 2 provides an extensive literature review of scenario history, typology, development process and definitions of scenario. Furthermore, an operational definition of scenario is introduced through the analysis and synthesis of existing definitions of scenario and results of emotional responses from scenario identification activities.
  • Chapter 3 identifies the key requirements in automotive design through a preliminary semi-structured interview study with 32 participants, which explored human desires in an automotive context, particularly focusing on digital device integrations. It implies the importance of considering various human aspects, including emotional factors in automotive design, providing the rationale for the conducted studies.
  • Chapter 4 reports on a preliminary scenario identification study in two workshops investigating either driving or non-driving scenarios. Two independent preliminary workshops were carried out, with seven participants who were automotive professionals and seven participants in the non-automotive group, in order to structure the main scenario identification activity.
  • Chapter 5 reports on a wide-scale online study, in a uncontrolled setting, in which data was collected from 211 participants regarding individual’s car stories focusing on something that occurred that made them respond emotionally. All responses from participants were based on long-term memory related to their cars as a driver or as a passenger, without prompting of context and state.
  • Chapter 6 reports on a face-to-face inquiry in a controlled simulator context, in which 34 participants gave individual car stories that involved their emotions. Considering the benefit of context and state dependent memory, a controlled simulator operating in a pre-planned driving context that could evoke either positive or negative emotions was required.
  • Chapter 7 provides an integration of themes from the scenario identification studies and exemplary scenarios of each of the main themes.
  • Chapter 8 provides an evaluation of the research outcome achieved from automotive practitioners.
  • Chapter 9 summarises the key findings against the research questions, describes research contributions and limitations, and suggests further work.

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