The Future: Designing Cars To Be Like People For People
Think of the qualities that a person who is quite physically fit has. Now, think of the qualities one might find in a supercar. They’re actually very similar. I think of a fit person as having a little fat, a useful amount of muscle, speed, agility, good posture, good sight, and a strong focus. A supercar is made with lightweight materials. It’s got power, which allows it to accelerate quickly to a high top speed. It has sticky tires that allow it to grip the road through sharp turns, and a suspension that keeps it planted and undisturbed on racetracks and winding canyon roads around the world. The low height and sloped windshield place our focus directly ahead, much like the hunters from which we descend. Supercars are just at the top of an automotive food chain that resembles our own.
Economy cars are practical and large in number. They get things done, like insects. Their structure allows for glass to provide more of a 360-degree view, like prey in the fields. A heavy muscle car is like a gentleman who frequents the weigh room for gains all year long, mostly for show and occasional bursts of strength. Luxury cars can be elegant and of great quality and pedigree, like a woman in a flowing dress who sits at a handmade cherry wood desk beside her degree from Princeton University hanging on the wall. I’m not saying all of this to stereotype. I’m trying to make a broader point.
Perhaps, the cars we look to buy and admire are simply extensions of our real self or even our ideal self. It isn’t to say that the person who doesn’t care about cars doesn’t care about life because he or she bought a Toyota Corolla; however, car enthusiasts may actually gain some insight on their own personalities by examining their particular taste in cars. Some people prefer the engineering of a Koenigsegg, while others cherish the artistry of a Pagani. Yes, there are people who claim to love everything, but everyone has a preference. That preference has to stem from something.
Perhaps it’s genetic. Maybe it happens to come from your experiences in life. The purpose of this isn’t to weigh in on a nature versus nurture debate though. It’s to shed light on the fact that we might benefit from going there someday. If we can figure out why certain people admire particular cars beyond culturally-relative adjectives, perhaps we can begin to tailor the way we design and engineer cars to the person more than ever before. If research were to lead us in this direction, it wouldn’t rule out the role of the engineer or the designer. It would simply present them with new challenges.
Imagine that I asked you to imagine the most beautiful landscape that could ever exist. Then, I ask you to draw it. Your notion of how the landscape should look will evolve, as will your drawing abilities. Over time, you’ll get closer to the ideal. Now imagine that I have taken a picture of the most beautiful landscape that could ever exist. Your initial drawing will be much closer to the ideal than the initial drawing from your imagination.
I am advocating for a future in which we utilize research, be it genetic, neurophysiological, etc, to find that beautiful landscape – to find the design that you as an individual would find most pleasing of all. Obviously car manufacturers wouldn’t be able to manufacturer a car just for you, but a combination of prevalent design features among certain groups of people could be a recipe for a new era of automotive design. This very well may be how we arrive at the Ferrari F40 or the Lamborghini Countach poster car of the 21st century.