A designer’s role is usually that of a problem solver. Once you start thinking this way, you soon discover all sorts of problems that need solving. Identifying the need for a missing product or experience can be easy when you start thinking, “Why isn’t there a __________ for this?” You then channel your frustration at the short-sightedness of a particular product into product ideas. Recently, my focus has been on vehicles and their lack of utility.
I recently bought a set of hangers for my car. These attach to the headrest supports and provide hanging space at the back of the seat. Simple, inexpensive and effective, they’ve seamlessly become a part of my way of transporting things in the empty space behind my seat. The more I used them, the more I pondered how and why these products came about.
Maybe it was done through ethnographic research? Perhaps. Did the inventor notice a lack of suspension hooks in vehicles? Probably. Then I wondered what else I could do to improve storage and utility in my vehicle.
I usually carry a small cooler in my trunk, just big enough for a few things. Ice cream, milk, fresh fish… things I don’t want to do without when running errands or on longer trips. Is it unreasonable for most vehicles to have an insulated duct in the trunk that is watertight and drainable? It’s neither complicated nor expensive. I know some cars already have this – between the seats or even in the glove box. My point is that there are widespread needs and not enough solutions.
Speaking of the glove box, the typical design of this box is a disaster. A disorganized bucket where you have to remove everything when trying to find something. Why not divide this useful space with boxes, dividers, flat files or pockets with flaps? Let’s put the license plate in a slider pocket right on the inside 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? This could be under the driver’s seat or the trunk and never be seen unless it’s necessary. The driver can’t even reach gloves if they were in it, it needs a new name to match its redesigned functionality.
Most car keys have evolved into bulky fobs that no longer need to be inserted into the steering column. How about a special place for that keychain, like a dashboard hook or a perfectly sized pocket? This silent need may not be the highest on the annoying list, but it’s also not expensive to solve. Observing user behavior would shed light on many small frustrations like this. Every time I get in my car, I look for a place to put my keys.
Imagine if the dash was customizable, with note-taking areas with hanging clips, magnets with cups to store small items like pens and sunscreen, sunglass storage, a garage door opener slot, a toll ticket holder that should be mounted where it can be easily read through the windshield. How hard are these ideas to fathom? I haven’t even mentioned the need for cell phone support to play music, follow directions and order food at 120 km/h. I always carry my phone in my pocket, so I went to the trouble of attaching a magnet to my dash.
Has anyone really observed the behavior of the rear passengers? What changes would you make to this experience?
Reclining the rear seat backs is a start. What else should you do in the back seat besides relaxing or sleeping? Why is this request, this need, this obvious oversight ignored and the rear seats still left in their upright, rigid and uncomfortable position? Let’s also make use of the backs of the front seats with hooks, clips, a storage compartment and some pockets with real utility. Heck, that spot is easier for the driver to reach than the glove box. I personally keep a small roll of paper towels here for messy emergencies.
But forget all those ideas – the glaring problem I have with my car is the black holes between the center console and the front seats. Anything that falls within that general area immediately disappears into a hell of a small space under the seat. I can’t put my hand in that thin slot there, nor can I squeeze my front-seat gloves under it. I have to stop the car, get out, open the back door, get on my knees, fish my whole arm under the seat, and hope I can pull that thing out of its tangle. It’s ridiculous and it happens more often than I expected.
There are solutions, and the names are hilariously appropriate –
Drop Stop Seat Gap Filler Package – it’s basically a foam noodle that prevents this nightmare. It’s patented, it works, and it’s inexpensive.
In my place, we have an open channel for consumer feedback on product complaints. This data is recorded, discussed and taken into account in the product development process. We listen to and adapt to these inputs based on the belief that complaints are an easy target 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 customers 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 that simple belief might be enough.