Stories & Projects

Design driven by emotion


Can the emotions of a single user inform the design journey for an entire vehicle concept? First-year transportation design students explored an unusual process driven by emotion.

Text: Jens PerssonImages: Jens Persson

Designing for a major car company typically requires exhaustive user research based on a broad range of target groups. But what happens if you create a vehicle with just one specific person in mind?

A couple of months ago, TD1 students, in a collaboration with Honda, embarked on an unconvential automotive design project. The brief was to understand the inner values, needs and aspirations of an individual user. The end goal? To propose a fully-fledged automotive concept for the electric vehicle market in 2030.

Divided in groups of two, the students were assigned to choose one specific individual to design for. They were given three sets of criteria at the outset: country, age and gender. Then began the quest for that special user that could inspire a journey towards a different type of vehicle, while also acting as a figurative vehicle for their combined design visions.

Fanny Jonsson teamed up with fellow student Dong Hao to create the electric vehicle concept Honda Ember.

"We quickly realized that when designing for one particular individual the process becomes driven more by emotion than function. Soon, you find yourself describing your design goals through emotional metaphors. For me, it definitely sparked creative processes that I will try to use going forward. In that sense, it really was an eye-opening project", says Fanny Jonsson. 

IMG 7597Dong Hao in the clay model workshop shaping the interior of the Honda Ember.

Fanny and Dong were given the following criteria: 30-35 years, Norwegian and female. They ended up choosing Gunn Narten, a firefighter with a rather public profile in her native Norway. Their initial ideation phase was based largely on Gunn's well-known profile as an active, outdoorsy explorer. But the tutors at Honda kept asking Fanny and Hong to dig deeper.

"We managed to map Gunn's key characteristics rather quickly. At least that's what we thought. But as we continued to do delve deeper, a different person surfaced. Her key values turned out to revolve more around caring for others and her pursuit of spiritual relief through nature. Of course, we did end up designing a hiking car. But our goals where not defined by the conventional characteristics of an off-road vehicle. Our guiding metaphor throughout the project ended up being a camp fire, a place that is a safe where you can interact with your loved ones", says Fanny Jonsson.

The allure of the interior 

For most modern car designers, the design opportunities offered by electric vehicles far outweigh the ones presented by traditional vehicles that run on petrol. Simply for the fact that the electrical engine doesn't pose the same restrictions when it comes to size and placement. Particularly interior designers are given more freedoms to design the central space of the vehicle, as it is not confined to either side of a large combustion engine.

Lu Tao, another TD1 student, discovered the allure of interior car design a couple of years ago. It turned out to be a decisive experience that would eventually lead her to Sweden and Umeå Institute of Design.

IMG 2356 3Lu Tao during the final presentation of her PRISM concept.

"I actually did my BFA in product design. During one course I got to try car design for one or two workshops. First, I experimented with the exterior but then I got the chance to start designing the interior of the car. Immediately, I felt that this was for me. It's so close to people. For me, the most important part of the car experience is once you're inside the vehicle. That's almost all the time you spend with a car", says Lu Tao, who created the concept PRISM together with Kristian Talvite.

"With electric vehicles the possibilities for a designer are expanding even more. As cars become more and more autonomous the interior of cars will also change and evolve. Vehicles are perhaps closer to people than they sometimes think. It is an intimate space or room that can really transmit a certain feeling or create a truly intimate atmosphere. This is something that I tried to convey in my design for our PRISM concept"

Sustainability, next

As cars change, the people who aspire to design them also change. The gas-guzzling muscle cars that long symbolized the peak of the industry are likely to fade into the background as new concepts for future transportation evolve. Recent developments in autonomous driving, electric vehicles and shared mobility are already revolutionizing the way car companies see themselves.

For Fanny Jonsson, the ongoing seismic shift in the transportation industry is precisely why she wants to become a car designer. For her, it's a unique opportunity to be part of the solution, not the problem.

IMG 8201Fanny Jonsson, in front of her Honda Ember poster during the final exhibition.

"I will probably never design a single combustion engine vehicle. And that's a good thing! Going forward, I will likely be designing electric vehicles in some shape or form. And EV cars open up so many possibilities. For example, the silhouette of the car doesn't have to be the same. It gives you an opportunity to question the proportions of a vehicle and what you can actually do as a designer".

"But my main reason for becoming a transportation designer actually relates to sustainability and trying to be part of a green revolution within the transportation industry. I want to understand and explore what these new infrastructures of transportation systems are going to be", concludes Fanny Jonsson.