The role of a designer is often that of a problem solver. Once he starts thinking this way, he soon begins to discover all kinds of problems that need solutions. Recognizing a need for a missing product or experience can be easy when you start thinking “why isn’t there a __________ for this?” He then turns his frustration with myopia of a given product into product ideas. Lately, my attention has been on vehicles and their lack of utility.
I recently bought a set of hangers for my car. These attach to the headrest mounts and offer a place to hang things on the back 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 wondered how and why these products came to be.
Perhaps it was done through ethnographic research? Maybe. Did the inventor notice the lack of hooks for hanging on vehicles? Probably. Then I wondered what else he could do to improve the storage and utility of my vehicle.
I usually carry a small cooler in my trunk, just big enough for a few items. Ice cream, milk, fresh fish…things you don’t want to mess up when you’re out on errands or on longer trips. Is it unreasonable that most vehicles have an insulated well in the trunk that is waterproof and drainable? It is not complicated or 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 layout of this compartment is a mess. A disorganized cube that requires you to remove everything inside when trying to find something. Why isn’t this useful space compartmentalized with bins, dividers, flat folders or pockets with flaps? Let’s put the record in a slip pocket right on the inside door, where you want it when you need it. Wheel lug nuts and touch-up paint can be stored elsewhere in the trunk. The manual thickness? That could be under the driver’s seat or in the trunk, never to be seen unless necessary. The driver can’t even reach the gloves if they were there, he needs a new name to match the newly designed functionality of him.
Most car keys have become a bulky key ring, which no longer needs to be attached to the steering column. How about a dedicated place for this keychain, like a hook on your dash or a perfectly sized pocket? This silent need may not be highest on the annoying list, but it’s also not expensive to solve. Observing user behavior would illuminate many small frustrations like this. Every time I get in my car, I look for a place to keep my keys.
Imagine if the board was customizable, with memo areas with hooks for hanging, magnets with cups to hold small things like pens and sunscreen, storage for sunglasses, a slot to open the garage door, a holder for your golf pass. toll booth to be mounted where it can be easily read through the windshield. How difficult are these ideas to probe? I haven’t even mentioned the need for cell phone support to play music, follow directions, and order food at 75 mph. I’m always plugging in my phone so I went to the trouble of mounting a magnet to my dash.
Has anyone actually observed the behavior of the rear passenger? What changes would you make to that experience?
Reclining the rear seatbacks is a start. What else are you supposed to do in the back seats besides relax or sleep? Why is this request, this need, this glaring oversight ignored, leaving the rear seats still in their stiff, awkward upright position? Also, let’s take advantage of the back of the front seats, with hooks, clips, a storage tray, some pockets with real use. Heck, that spot is easier for the driver to reach than the glove box. Personally, this is where I keep a small roll of paper towels, for sticky emergencies.
But forget about all those ideas: the obvious problem I have with my car is the black holes between the center console and the front seats. Anything dropped in that general area immediately vanishes into an awfully small space under the seat. I can’t get my hand into the thin slit there, nor can I squeeze my gloves under from the front seat. I have to stop the car, get out, open the back door, get on my knees, put my whole arm under the seat, and hope that I can get the object out of its tangled lair. It’s ridiculous and it happens more often than I expect.
There are solutions, and the names are hilariously appropriate:
Drop Stop Seat Gap Filler Pack – It’s basically a foam noodle that prevents this nightmare. It’s patented, it works and it’s cheap.
At my job we have an open channel for consumer feedback regarding product complaints. That data is recorded, discussed and taken into account as part of the product development process. We listen and adjust to this information, based on the belief that complaints are an easy target to improve 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 this simple belief could be enough.