Over the past few years we’ve moved beyond the Information Age to the Information Age on Steroids. Data collection technologies and methodologies have grown prodigious and prolific, making it possible to drown yourself in any type of data you choose. You can plunge into a virtually bottomless pit of facts, figures, precise calculations and projections, with thousands or even millions of relevant data points to choose from, depending on the industry that employs you.
Presumably, this makes it easier than ever to forecast market trends and the evolution of consumer preferences. This should be especially true in car design, where more than one billion people own cars and at least that many will own them in the future. When you have this many current and potential consumers, plus dozens of major automobile brands across the world trying to please them, you should have no trouble finding interesting trends-related information to collect, cross-correlate and analyze.
Despite the exponential multiplication of available data points, however, trends forecasting still can’t be classified as pure science. It contains elements of science, but it is also undoubtedly an art form, one that relies on instinct and intuition in addition to the immense quantities of data. Human beings are complex creatures, and trying to forecast exactly how their changing preferences might best be satisfied will remain a tall task, for the most sophisticated AI systems and the most brilliant analysts alike.
How Trends Forecasting Can Help the Designer
Trends forecasting in car design is fraught with uncertainty. Yet there is still a certain predictability about it that makes it a worthwhile endeavor. This is because consumers are consistent in their desire for a safe, convenient and enjoyable driving experience, and innovations or changes that enhance these elements will be welcome while those that don’t will be rejected. They also have expectations about how cars should look, which is grounded in the concept of gradual evolution rather than sudden and radical change.
You can alter various features and package them as cleverly as you’d like. But if you’re efforts are swimming against the tide, you’ll be drowning in a river of red ink soon enough.
Cars captured my imagination as a child. Back then I was enthralled by the sleek and glossy images of the various Concept Cars (a.k.a Dream Cars) all the major car companies were releasing through consumer magazines like Car & Driver and Road & Track. So I eagerly poured through these publications, looking to learn more about the shape of things to come.
But here is a real irony. While being enraptured by these futuristic cars helped motivate my interest in becoming a car designer, once I’d actually become one I became more and more skeptical of the most imaginative concepts, which seemed pie in the sky and divorced from reality. I’ve learned that trends forecasting can act as a buffer against getting lost in fantasy, or in projecting your wishes and desires onto the public.
In car design, the most creatively brilliant inventions are usually iterations on a tried-and-true theme. This is why trends forecasting is so necessary because it allows you to assess the data that will show you where your creative lens should be focused.
To make trends forecasting a useful enterprise, you’ll have to observe larger trends and smaller ones, which the data will help illuminate. Some of the information you’ll analyze while developing your forecasting skills will be open to interpretation, and you’ll need to figure out what it all really means through your own powers of logical deduction. In a lot of cases the trends won’t be specific to your industry at all, but will instead reflect ongoing developments in the society, culture, or economy as a whole. The trick in these instances will be to make sensible connections between the car industry and the social and environmental context, to figure out how car designers should respond to any trends that might have an impact on consumer demands and expectations.
Trends Forecasting in Action: The Porsche Convey
For me, the utility of trends forecasting has been confirmed by some of my earliest work, from 2007 and 2008, when I developed a concept for a Porsche with all-terrain capability. I called my proposed rally car the Porsche Convey, and my choice of the rally car template wasn’t based on a whim. It was grounded in my observation of societal trends and their growing impact on consumer preferences, and my knowledge of how car designers would normally respond to such challenges.
In times of economic instability and cultural uncertainty, the mentality of the consumer will inevitably turn toward vehicle options that are more durable and versatile. Reliability and the ability to function in all road conditions will trump concerns over appearance, forcing designers to adapt. The rally car had a long and storied history in the automotive industry, and I saw the rally car model as the ideal template to help Porsche respond to a changing climate.
Eventually Porsche perceived the same trends that I did, and it was quite exciting to see them finally produce a rally version of their acclaimed 911 model. The fact that I lived the dream of working with Porsche in 2018 made it all the more satisfying to see them align with my vision. Porsche ultimately recognized the same trends I had, and responded to them with a magnificent innovation that verifies the usefulness of trends forecasting for car designers and manufacturers who want to respond to meaningful developments in the real world.
Trends Forecasting is a Fantastic Tool, but You Have to Figure Out How to Use It
Trends forecasting is a valuable tool, but in the end it will be up to you as a designer to decide how to use it. No matter how much data you collect, or how many changes you observe, and what you think their overall direction might be, you’ll have to trust your instincts once the actual design process commences.
There will be some signs pointing you in certain directions, and you should be confident in your capacity to interpret them correctly. But knowing you can’t actually predict the future, but can only perceive some of the likelihoods or range of possibilities will force you to make all the final choices. Which obviously leaves plenty of room for creativity, which should delight you.
Needless to say, none of this applies exclusively to car design. Whatever industry you work in, all of the research and analysis involved in trends forecasting will be extremely valuable to you as a creator. It will humble you and force you to color within the lines, respecting the parameters of innovation that your present and future customers are perpetually in the process of setting.
Christian Delise, a prominent figure in the automotive world, began his journey studying consumer psychology and later honed his skills in Industrial Transportation Design. Since 2010, he’s been involved in advanced design roles at major companies like Toyota, Volkswagen, Porsche and Lamborghini and others, while also founding two companies and earning seven patents. Christian’s latest venture, Delise Automotive, embodies his advocacy for Regenerative Product Modality (RPM), driving the automotive industry toward a circular future.