What Disruption is not

BRIEF: I have been invited to a conclave of the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers (SIAM) in Goa. To run a workshop – and “shake things up”. The session length is 90 minutes, and the target audience is car designers within large Indian auto manufacturing companies. The question is what value can I provide to highly capable designers, with a long track record (experience), capable of working within complex engineering organisations?

Designing the Workshop

I had a few things I could potentially do. Here were my options:

  1. I could run a session on ‘how to come up with a design that goes viral on the internet’. This would draw upon my experience of teaching car design since 1994, with specific emphasis upon the message of this blog – how to do a campaign project.
  2. I could run a session on ‘how to feed the inner artist’. For the design job could prove to be a joy killer.
  3. I could run a session on ‘cultural capital’ as a way to reimagine who to design for.

On the topic of design jobs being a joy killer – or boring – here is a blog post that addresses this issue through the comments section – priceless. Titled the ‘in house designer’ the discussion centres around the downsides of working in house. Here are some comments:

I find that I spend the majority of my time trying to sell an idea or ideas to the internal team rather than working directly with the client to find that new and exciting idea we both can be inspired by.

You don’t have as much freedom to express your own ideas in a larger organization… at least not without convincing 3 different committees and submitting several forms/documents. Even if you do that, your own ideas could get squashed by another manager in another department who has seniority and doesn’t like or fully grasp your idea (or just doesn’t like you or your department for that matter).

Familiar? Its possible it doesn’t have to be this way.

Disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success

Most people in leadership within car companies are familiar with the notion of Disruption. Now even managers can do disruptive thinking – having read Clayton Christensen they can play experts. However its possible their understanding of disruption is incorrect – as is that in much writing (click here to read the article that explains this)

“Disruption” describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality—frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred.

  • incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most profitable customers

  • ignore the needs of some segments

  • successfully targeting those overlooked segments

Importantly in this article you will encounter the question: is UBER an example of disruption? “According to the theory, the answer is no.”

Then to continue on my options: I could run a session on disruption.

For Disruption is an explanation by Christensen that is part “a posteriori” and part a “post hoc” proposition. What is questionable is whether disruption can infact be designed and implemented at all. By the same measure any paradigm shift can be re-explained as a disruption. Lionising disruption also marginalises maintenance – read “tradition” and the collectivised ways of doing things. If we take food as an example we can ask the question: Does food need to be disrupted? The answer is no – for some of us. So the balance between maintaining current ways and coming up with new ways (innovation) is a fine one. It just so happens that we are in a period where ‘innovation’ is riding a high.

For design a better word (rather than using disruption) is project. Within the notion of the project pre-exists paradigms of ‘listening’, ‘provoking’, ‘nudging’ and simply taking risks. The pre-existence is very old and established. The problem within ‘corporate’ ecosystems is the issue of ‘justification’. The project to the corporate administrator (a bureaucrat who is referred to as the ‘executive‘) is always about getting it ‘right’ – in the dart board analogy thats about getting a bulls eye – hitting the target. The project – some very successful ones and the theory of Christensen argues for this – is often focussed upon a marginal and neglected area. One that is not profitable – or considered to be of value. Radical design often focus away from the centre and pick up themes from the periphery.

The question then is how does a designer within a large enterprise focus away from the target, and make a case for privileging? With difficulty I guess. But I have some ideas.

The Designer as Creative Practitioner

Within the PhD space in my place of work – we have a focus upon privileging the “creative practitioner”. If I were to treat the designer within the car company as a creative practitioner – then I would be able to open a line of discussion around the ‘work’ – the oeuvre – of the designer (artist). What this could do is to focus the work of the designer upon a inner ‘boss’ quite different from the external corporate ‘boss’. This designer wouldn’t need to do what the superior or employee in the organisation with a higher pay says, or what the ‘customer’ survey says. The designer can simply choose to take a risky path – design by designer – in opposition to the “design by designer influenced by many superiors and loud people”.

However the sub-ordinate position of the designer is a problem. Its an issue that has dogged designers for ever.

It is at this point that I have a solution. I may come back and upload – how I did it. Watch this space.

For now I will share a teaser from a video mashup I am working on.




3R-C Concept

Honda to Unveil the Electric 3R-C Concept in Geneva : TreeHugger

Next week ushers in the Geneva auto show, and based on last year’s momentum and the previews thus far, it’s going to be bubbling with alternative vehicles. Honda has released a teaser of its 3R-C, an all-electric single-seater urban mobility concept. With two wheels in the front and one in the back, it conjures images of the Aptera, but even more compact.honda 3rc concept photohonda 3rc concept rear photo

Nissan’s electric cars

The past and the future of Nissan’s electric cars: from 1947 to iPhone apps — Autoblog Green

Nissan has made a big splash in the electric car world with its recent Leaf unveiling, but let’s not forget that the company has a long, long history with engine-free motoring. A new press release put out by the Japanese automaker quotes Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel (seriously) for extra cred while looking back at the first all-electric vehicle in the corporate history book: the 1947 Tama Electric Car (pictured). That EV used lead acid batteries to go an easy 22 mph and had an astonishing range of 40 miles. It was sold in post-war Japan for three years. Other EVs from the history books described after the jump: the Prairie EV, the Altra EV (known as the R’nessa EV in Japan) and the Hypermini. Quite a lineup

Looking forward for what might be coming in the upcoming Leaf all-electric vehicle and Nissan’s other EVs, the company is reportedly developing an iPhone application that will allow owners to check in on the battery’s state of charge as well as operate the car’s air conditioning and heating system. Why would you want to do this? Similar to the automatic cabin cooling that happens with the solar roof option in the 2010 Prius, a remote climate control app means you can tell the car to use the grid’s energy to get the car to a comfortable temperature before getting in, saving energy in the battery for more momentum. Perhaps Nissan has learned something after six decades of EV work?

Small car for the future

Moville – A Green Drop In Ocean Of Futuristic Automobiles – The Design blog

Design contests aim to squeeze the best out of grey cells of creative thinkers who dare to give shape to their visions of a reliable future. One such contest is the 5th Peugeot Design Contest 2008 where Woo-Ram Lee of France conceptualized a car which is aptly designed to evolve within the cities of the future, whilst retaining the key values of the 21st century. Christened as Mo Ville, this single seater is intended for the Megapolis. This eco-friendly auto consists of a tear shaped capsule over an electric drive train while the three magnetic ball wheels render frictionless motion through electromagnets. Programmed with an artificial intelligence, this robotic car is capable of recognizing its owner and welcomes him/her with open doors. Fitted with a self driving feature, it can also be manually driven with wireless digital gadgets like cell phones and portable game consoles.

Car Sharing

Car Sharing – was the theme of a project last year. One of the outcomes from the project was this descripter – of the car sharing system – where the city was described as being composed of three zones. This is an interesting insight which explains car sharing as public transport and defines three different kinds of cars for each of the zones.

Car design in India

Automotive design gets ready for a greater role in India

The initial flow of companies setting up design centres has led to as many as 15 institutes introducing courses in automotive or transportation design in the country.

Auto design is also getting more classroom space in design centres that have traditionally focused on other industries.

The National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, launched a postgraduate course of two-and-a-half years’ duration in transportation and automobile design in 2006. MIT, Pune, and IIT Madras also have programmes on automobile engineering, but the industry says that finding design manpower is still a problem because between the institutes, only about 300 designers graduate every year.

“It’s a turning point in the Indian auto industry,” says Pradyumna Vyas, mentor, transportation and automobile design, and head, education, NID. “The role of design, more than ever, in the Indian auto industry is gaining increasing importance if the ongoing auto show is any indication of the shape of things to come. ” NID has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Italian design houses and schools such as Pininfarina SpA and Domus Academy where their students go on exchange programmes.

Bobby Benz

Now Everyone Can Drive A Mercedes…Well, Almost. | Mark’s Technology News

It’s not just adults that appreciate fine automobile design and that’s something Mercedes seems to have caught on to. Their latest creation is a limited edition, tot-sized, ride-on version of their SLK AMG called the Bobby Benz, which joins their smaller, made-to-order model cars aimed squarely at this neglected audience of car aficionados.

Who knows what their motivation is? To instill brand loyalty from a young age? To take advantage of a relatively untapped market? To help the company remain solvent through the economic downturn? Nah, maybe they’re just trying to bring a little happiness to the children of the world uber-rich.

According to the company’s recent press release, the Bobby Benz is the successor to the classic children’s go-cart and like any decent luxury vehicle, features ergonomic leg positioning and noise reduction technology. It also includes a Direct-Steer system that reduces the vehicle’s turning circle…imagine that.