A designer's role is usually that of a problem solver. Once you start thinking this way, you soon start to discover all sorts of problems in need of solutions. Recognizing the need for a missing product or experience can be easy when you start thinking "why is there not a __________ for this?" You then turn your frustration with the short sightedness of a given product into ideas for products. Lately, my focus has been on vehicles and their lack of utility.
I recently purchased a set of hangers for my car. These clip onto the head rest supports and offer a place to hang things off of the rear of the seat. Simple, inexpensive and effective, they have seamlessly become a part of how I carry things in the empty space behind my seat. The more I used them, the more I pondered how and why these products came to be.
Perhaps it was done through ethnographic research? Maybe. Did the inventor notice a lack of hang hooks in vehicles? Probably. Then I wondered what else I could do to improve the storage and utility in my vehicle.
I usually carry a small cooler in my trunk, just big enough for a few items. Ice cream, milk, fresh fish... things I don't want to spoil when out doing errands, or during longer trips. Is it unreasonable for most vehicles to have an insulated well in the trunk that is waterproof and drainable? It is not complicated nor expensive. I know that some cars have this already- between the seats, or even in the glovebox. My point is that there are widespread needs and not enough solutions.
Speaking of the glovebox, the typical design of this compartment is a disaster. A disorganized bucket requiring you to remove everything inside when trying to find anything. Why isn't this useful space compartmentalized with bins, dividers, flat folders or pockets with flaps? Let's put the registration in a slider pocket right on the inner door, where you want it when you need it. Wheel lock nuts and touch up paint can be stored elsewhere in the trunk. The thick manual? That could be under the driver's seat or trunk, never to be seen unless needed. The driver can't even reach gloves if they were in there, it needs a new name to match its newly designed functionality.
Most car keys have evolved into a bulky fob, no longer needed to stick into the steering column. How about a dedicated spot for this fob, like a hook on the dash, or a perfectly sized pocket? This silent need might not be the highest on the annoying list, but it is also not expensive to solve. Watching users' behaviors would illuminate many small frustrations such as this one. Every time I get into my car, I look for a place to stash my keys.
Imagine if the dash was customizable, with areas for notes with hanging clips, magnets with cups for holding small things like pens and sunscreen, sunglasses storage, a garage door opener slot, a toll pay pass holder that should be mounted where it can be easily read through the windscreen. How hard are these ideas to fathom? I haven't even mentioned the need for cell phone support in order to play music, follow directions and to order up food at 75mph. I am always plugging in my phone, so I went through the trouble of mounting a magnet on my dash.
Has anyone really observed the rear passenger behavior? What changes would you make to that experience?
Reclining rear seat backs is a start. What else are you supposed to do in the rear seats besides relax or sleep? Why is this request, this need, this obvious oversight ignored, leaving the rear seats still in their upright, rigid and uncomfortable position? Also, let's take advantage of the back of the front seats, with hooks, clips, a storage tray, some pockets with real usage. Heck, that spot is easier to reach for the driver than the glovebox. Personally, this is where I keep a small roll of paper towels, for messy emergencies.
But forget about all those ideas - the glaring problem I have with my car are the black holes between the center console and the front seats. Anything dropped in that general area vanishes immediately to a hellishly small space under the seat. I can't fit my hand in the thin slit there, nor can I squeeze my mitts under it from the front seat. I have to stop the car, get out, open the rear door, get on my knees, and fish my whole arm under the seat and hope that I can pry the object from its tangled lair. Its ridiculous and it happens more often than I expect.
There are solutions, and the names are hilariously appropriate - Drop Stop Seat Gap Filler Package - its basically a foam noodle that prevents this nightmare. It's patented, it works and it is inexpensive.
At my job we have an open channel for feedback from consumers regarding product complaints. That data is recorded, discussed and taken into consideration as part of the product development process. We listen and adjust to this input, based on the belief that complaints are easy targets for improving our products. There is no easy or direct way to provide feedback or suggestions to car designers. It makes me feel like they don't care about their customer needs, when they should. A simple way to send ideas to the design team would give people the belief that the company is listening, and this simple belief might be enough.
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