Edge Tech - Rant!

Rant! Nathan Shedroff

Driving Their Industry into the Ground

Maybe it's just my age, but cars suck so much more than they used to. I'm sure someone could just tell me that I'm old and jaded, but I can prove it. When would you say was the last significant innovative car feature in the auto industry? I put it in the 70s with intermittent wipers. Everything else that has made a difference in cars came before that ­ even airbags.

Now, I know a lot has happened in the industry. There have been some beautiful cars (though very few), including the Lexus Coupe, the new Porsche Boxter, the VW Concept 1, etc. But these aren't really innovations ­ they're merely style. What about something that has changed what cars do for us, what they mean to us, how we live with them. Saturn has done a great thing in changing how we buy cars (and think about buying them), but they haven't done anything about the cars themselves.

Car design these days has been relegated to prettifying the same old thing instead of innovating the cars themselves. It has always been geared to how things look since the beginning, but at least, from time to time, there would be something wonderful that would be added to the notion of what a car was and could be. These days, however, those times seem to have stopped.

It astonishes me how an industry as big as the global automobile insustry (not to mention all of the related industries that live off of it: taxi cabs, audio accessories, car stereos, etc.) can go for so long without making their product better or taking advantage of advances in other industries. It seems that most are basically satisfied by making cars look different from year to year ­ even if the changes aren't very unique in relation to their compeition. What blows my mind is that the industry could survive (and this, of course, is a relative term) with a focus based almost completely on appearance (and, perhaps, price). Does it spell the end of product design, function, and innovation or is it just a longer-than-usual dry spell?

Before you start challenging me about what cars are supposed to be, let me tell you about what they could be: they could be smarter (to use a loaded word). They could be more personalizable (inexpensively). They could be more responsive, adaptive, and modular. Cars could recognize you and change how they behave. They could learn from your mistakes and adapt to your needs, desires, and behaviors. Cars could offer you ways of living and communicating while you're "on the move." At the very least, they could be programed to turn down the volume on the stereo when you receive a call on you car cell phone (or personal cell phone, for that matter).

Cars should be evolving similar to computers (not that computers are incredibly great examples of usability, but at least they're better). What's missing in car design is exactly what's missing in websites and so-called interactive media: the interactivity.

What's worse, the car industry is as solely focused on appearance as the computer industry is focused on technology. Both are lost in a whiz-bang world where what interests them as an industry (that is, whatever the cool new design-riff or technology-of-the-moment is) doesn't do a thing for their products or audiences (those who buy those products in the first place).

How do we wake up an entire industry? How do we tell all those people that they are driving their industry into the ground and that there is a better way? Or should we even care what happens to them?

What do you think?


jlennon said:

Crashes in our personal computing are inconvenient and frustrating. In business however, they can become very expensive. Especially when one needs the tools or research or whatever to complete the given task or project. Netscape (3.0) started locking up on me last January. Several times a day. Despite crash guard. (Which I believe should have it's name changed from "Crash Guard" to "Stand By and Yell, 'Look Out!', After the User has Smashed Into the Pillar") About every third crash was a hard crash, requiring reboot.

Join the conversation!

Most Active Topics:

Topic 11 The Marc and The Beast

Topic 13 Stop Crashing on Me!

Topic 23 FYI: Fallback Plans

All Rant! Topics



Nathan Shedroff has been an information and interaction designer for almost a decade. He co-founded vivid studios, an Internet architecture firm in San Francisco and he is currently the Creative Director there.

He has a BS in Car Design, has written a few books, worked on many projects, travels and speaks too much, and has his own website.

Nathan loves cars, he really does. He owns a Honda Civic Wagon, if you must know, and it off-roads very well, thank you.

What makes you
want to rant?

Also in Rant!:

The Marc and The Beast
It seems like everyone either loves or hates Bill Gates. For me, it's a little of both.

Push Media: The Web's Bug Zapper
We have to unhitch ourselves from the horse and cart model of traditional media if we're going to get anywhere.

Driving Their Industry into the Ground
Car design has been relegated to prettifying the same old thing instead of innovating the cars themselves.

Complete Archive


edge tech


electric minds | virtual community center | world wide jam | edge tech | tomorrow | conversations

Any questions? We have answers.

©1996, 1997 electric minds, all rights reserved worldwide.
electric minds and the electric minds logo are trademarks of electric minds
online information system by Leverage