When Design Goes too far....

Thought you might like this post I wrote on the front page today about the 2011 Charger commercials:

As designers, we often engage in many of what we call “future of…” programs, for both clients as well as for ourselves. These projects often remove some of the constraints that exist in our current product developments cycle to focus on larger macro trends in human behavior and technology to try to look forward into the future. Cynically this is sometimes called crystal ball gazing, but it often it can reveal insights that can help us to course correct more production oriented programs. Hollywood has picked up on how amazing these kinds of future explorations can be in many movies over the past 50 years, such as the way HMI is portrayed in Minority Report (UI which is already looking old) and Iron Man (CAD interface).

These types of explorations have been going on for a long time in R&D departments, the pages of magazines, and as part of promotions. Sometimes they were amazingly close, and sometimes they are hilariously off. They are our best educated guess of what comes next after next. For a look at the history of such predictions, check out one of my favorite blogs Paleofuture.com

In these kinds of projects we often abstract existing behaviors to manifest a vision of where we think technology can take us. I LOVE this new Dodge commercial shows how that abstraction can quickly become irrelevance, annoyance, and even cause an outright backlash.

There are a lot of things that technology could do for us, but the question is, what do we WANT it to do for us and HOW. As software becomes ever more advanced, will it manifest itself in ways that feel genuinely mechanical? A nice example of this are the fly-by-wire systems in commercial aircraft that work hard to reproduce the feedback of mechanical linkages to pilots. Another example are tunnel mounted stick shifts in automatic cars. The gear selection in an automatic car could be a dial, a switch, or a touch screen, but we seem to prefer the large mechanical lever that emulates the mechanical shifter on a sports car. Is this longing for the more understandable what is behind retro styling and Steam Punk? Is the embrace of mechanical interfaces merely a transitional affordance or is it how human’s prefer to interface?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but continue reading to see the bonus “Slippery Slope” commercial that pokes fun at Google’s attempt to drive your car.

That commercial sucks. It’s an uninspired piece of junk that tries to sell products made by cave men for cave men. And it clearly states that Dodge fears nothing more than the future. Whatever will be, will most probably be without Dodge :laughing:

Point missed.

Absolutely not. That commercial doesn’t bring any own ideas, just copies them from movies. And it’s all about anxiety about the future, not about creating it. A 40 years old muscle car is Dodge’s plan for the future. Oh pleaaase :unamused: That stuff has been for the impotent ones, who can’t afford a real sports car since these days.
A good point needs a good example. And this one is as weak as it can be.

I agree with Mike…Point missed.

You bring up some great points Mike. I look back on my childhood when we were promised flying cars and ones that could drive themselves in the year 2000. I remembered as a kid thinking that this would be the coolest thing in the world and as I lived 4 hours away from my grandparents and at the time and I was an only child (before my sister was born) I couldn’t think about how cool it would be if we could just set it and forget it and be at our destination. Meaning it would be like us hanging out at home and the car would take us there.

Now 20 years later, I have to say I do not want this. Even though with GPS technology and many others this could be done now, it would take away all human interaction. I now drive a Subaru WRX. I drive this car because it is a turbo, AWD, not to fancy but four doors, but is a hell of a fun car to drive. If I had a computer drive it for me it would take all the fun away. I like being able to shift gears. I like feeling the road and wondering if I am going to make that turn. It’s the thrill of the drive, or the thought of being in control.

I think the big message here is that no matter what you design you will never be able to take the human experience and emotions away. We as human will never be able to sit back and count on a robot or mechanical device to take over and move us from point A to point B. You could argue that Planes and Trains have done this, but we still know that there is a human that is there to make sure that everything is going ok. We are emotional beings and this varies from transportation to gifts that we may give each other. No matter what the circumstance there will always be an emotion and human behavior involved and we will alway want to be in control.

My 2 cents


i watched the commercial first and before i read michaels text, i thought for myself, that this seems like a desperate try to verify why someone wouldnt want to evolve their product. but its a fun try :slight_smile:

i can see your point though. one thing i wholeheartedly dislike is calling a firm or something for information and then have to do five minutes of listening to a “robot” and typing in a numer every few seconds. for me, i don´t have a problem losing some tasks where i interact with machines, but replacing human to human interaction has to be very well considered.

on the topic of driving:
in the few years i have been driving, i more than once wished i had a little more “robot” assistence, which for example, could regulate the speed level perfectly to save the most gas and today too, after driving or three hours i would have prefered a lot more to be passenger instead of driver and just read a book.
while i really like driving. my bmw is a great ride and i enjoy it a lot, it´s most of the time not fun because of many reasons. boring roads, slow roads, stupid other drivers, never ending construction sites, horrible weather, and cities. who had ever fun driving in a city, especially one you have never been too.
so my opinion on future driving would be: please take my seat, i will be there to intercept if necessary, but if i can choose the times i drive and the times someone/something drives me, i can choose the fun times and enjoy something else the endless other driving hours.

The point is not the car at all. The commercial is a vehicle (pardon the pun) for a conversation on different approaches to design. Some feel design should show peoe a better way to live. A nice sentiment, but it often leads to solutions that annoy at best and don’t inspire. The second approach is based on how people actually behave (for example loving to stomp on the throttle of a muscle car). These desires can be designed for and can become the actual interface that makes new technologies more desirable, or at least more acceptable.

Does the guy in the commercial care that it is a muscle car with a V8? Only so much in that the V8 in this scenario represents freedom, independence, rebellious disrespect of the status quo, and a flip of the bird to authority. All of this could be accomplished with a completely different kind of personal transportation, he just want to control it, and have a throttle to stomp on when he has the opportunity in my view.

That is easy to see in something that people are passionate about, like their vehicles. But sometimes I think we forget that when working on projects in the kitchen or bathroom.

I love this commercial, because anyone who thinks that a future of complete automation is either desirable or better for the user, is fooling themselves. I remember seeing a futuristic concept car on coroflot a few years ago with no windows, and an explanation on the future of ‘impersonal transportation.’ Why? We need less cold isolation in the future, not more. Same thing goes for Mike and Maaike’s vision of automated window lounges. Sorry, I’m not interested.

Okey, this computer just ate up a large paragraph, that I typed in response to this thread.
This clearly shows, that machines have already begun to take over…
Or it only shows that this forum sux, If you try to finish something that you started
hours ago, before you were interrupted und got logged out by the system in the meantime. (why even?)

Let’s try again:

I love this ad, as it raises an important question about our concept of “future”:

Is automation good?

I for one think, that we already have gone too far in automation. It is easy to create
a fixed and save experience for every user in an augmented reality. But reality as
such is not a save and even place that holds only positive experiences for its inhabitants.
And the not so positve experiences are important also, they once were seen as “learning
by doing…”

Why do barrista style coffee machines sell so well? Would I rather have a robot serving
me the same coffee? Certainly not. I take pride in being able to “create” that coffee myself
every morning.

And I enjoy my morning commute. Yes I admit. “I enjoy my commute.” Feels like admitting
in a local “caroholics anonymus group”. I know, that many people on many occasions would
love, just to be “teleported” from one place to another in a more personal manner than public
transport allows now. But many of those people enjoy driving at least sometimes.

So my ideal “car of the future” should be capable of doing both.

In reality the latest offerings of some of the “premium” makes are unable to deliver on both
fields. They include all the “computers” and electronic servants to enable them to drive on
their own, but they are not (yet) allowed to do so. As tradeoff for all that automations much
of what I like about driving got lost within the latest itterations of those “autobahn mobiles”.

You can get active cruise control, active breaking, active steering. Which in reality means,
that if all those items are “activated”, you in turn are passivated, being a passenger in the
driving seat. It would work, if you could concentrate on doing something instead of driving
(some ironing,if this hasn’t been automated long ago). But you can’t. You constantly have
to supervise those systems at work…(and that gives you a handful)

Instead I’d very much like to have a precise (not activated) steering, a manual click-clack
gearbox and some surefooted predictable brakes. I don’t want to change the setup of the
back axle damping while on the move. It should be damned near perfect from the start.

Thank you. (End of rant.)

It might be doubtfull, that the “new” Charger delivers on being a true drivers car, but that
flick is god damn genious…


P.S.: If the human race gets extinct within the next hundred years it will not be for war or
atomic waste but because of the ubiquitous availability of prn…

I like the ads (especially with the voice of Dexter narrating the ripping off of a robots head) and I like the car, but there is an element of nostalgia that comes across as anti-innovation/ luddite, like the only thing Dodge can do is revive a past success, rather than than strive for something new.

That said, two points:

  1. to paraphrase the OP: Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.
  2. any future predicting tends to be linear, it misses out on the exchange of ideas from other things that bang into it and create new ideas and go off into new directions, especially the social implications of new technology.

Yo: I think with technology moving so fast the last 15-20 years, it leads to this kind of questioning. I know I feel it.

I think that technological progress is positive when it liberates people. Take for example mechanical fulling:

This is a depiction of people stomping on urine filled wool. It’s part of the process of making felt, which was the principal material for clothing in Europe until cotton imports became affordable. I don’t think anyone protested when this became mechanical.

On the other hand, as looms became more automated, people did protest:

The workers were, at the very least, content with their jobs. They protested their labor being displaced by machines. In order to discourage their sabotage, I believe that frame breaking was punishable by death!

So, I think it depends on how technology is used. I imagine that getting a phone call from a child by their cel to let a parent know that they are ok, just late, is an amazingly powerful advance. However, if that cel is just being used to track down an employee, it’s chaining us back up to a machine.

With a car, the ability to hop in and go 500km to have dinner on the ramparts of Quebec city is an incredibly liberating feeling. However, the monotonous 30 minute daily commute feels less so.

To bring it back to the Dodge commercial, I think all of that tech would be liberating if that guy works 4 hours a day and spends the rest of it in contemplation, artistic endeavors, sports, etc. However, if it just bonds him to a monotonous routine, I think he should start ripping heads off.

It’s very easy for me to see both sides of this argument.

My personnel opinion lies with the Dodge folks. To me, the perfect vehicle is RWD, a five or six speed transmission, responsive suspension and steering, an engine with a wide power band, and style that will be as cool today as it will be twenty years from now. I hate driver aides, I hate touch screen interfaces on the dash, and I hate cars that come with fifty different setting modes for driving. Cars should not be multifunctional devices. Cars should be meant for driving and they should do that very well.

And this goes for “performance” cars as well As a car enthusiast; I have become overall pretty bored with current sports cars being offered today. I used jump when the new issue of R&T came, but now I could care less. Who cares about your sub 3 sec 0-60 time? Who cares you have three different shifting speeds for your dual-clutch semi auto trans, or the fact that your two piece carbon ceramic brakes improve your brake fade? Truth is, your never going to bring your car to these limits on the road and even on the track for that matter unless your seriously racing. I would be much more excited by cars that are EXCITING to drive on the ROAD. Cars that make every day speeds of 30-80mph fun.

However, I know many people who could care less about driving and would rather jump into there own personnel bus and not ever touch a steering wheel. For them I can actually see how these self driving cars may seem very appealing. But when it comes to driving, I really think cars need to focus on the “driving aspect”. If you want an automated system, improve public transportation. Freedom and the open road are not for the automated world.

Read Art as Experience by John Dewey. You’ll have your answers then.

Also, I cannot see the ad from work, streaming media is blocked. But from the descriptions, I think I get the idea. It seems Dodge has come up with one possible future and it sucks. The only solution is to buy their car.

In general, “what if” scenerios are assinine. No harm in exploring them, they can generate ideas, but it pointless to think that will actually happen.

Imagine 100 years ago, an ad shows gridlock traffic with people choking on the smog. It cuts to a scene with a dude with his horse and buggy cruising along in some open field. Its an ad for Dodge buggy whips. The best damn buggy whip you can buy.

First of all, Dodge’s new ad campaigns make me ill. 90% of the time that Charger is sitting in traffic on the 405, or driving through some suburb on the way home from the grocery store. It’s not speeding down the highway. It doesn’t represent freedom. 60 years of contemporary marketing has convinced us car = freedom. And now we are a country with one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions because we 70 years of urban planning has dispersed our cities and forces us to drive everywhere. We’re slaves to our cars.

But that’s not the point.

I feel like Michael’s original point is musing on why we produce “future vision” videos in the first place. I have a love/hate relationship with this type of design deliverable, and I’ve made my fair share of them. Who doesn’t love to speculate about the future? Who doesn’t love to dream about gratuitous uses of technology? A future of convenience where everything is taken care of for you?

That last point is where my feelings about vision videos start to get muddy. It seems that the majority of our future visions tend to assume a future where no one has to to do “menial” tasks—and it just seems lazy. Obviously that’s what Dodge was riffing on, and I respect that.

Firstly, I think the problem may lay in the fact that most “vision” videos tend to fetishize technology. Obviously the vast majority of them are produced by tech companies, but are there ANY examples of future visions by corporations or organizations (not Hollywood) that explore a future relating to low-tech? Maybe exploring cultural shifts, work styles, or service-based economies?

Secondly, I think the majority of vision videos lack nuance. It’s usually feature after feature, with not a lot of narrative about how this stuff REALLY affects lives. The human interactions are where the interesting stuff lies, not in gratuitous 3D interfaces. I’d love to start seeing future visions that cut through to what the technology enables, not tech for tech’s sake.

Yes, thanks for articulating that point better Craighton! It is not about the car, but I understand why people are getting fixed on vehicles, because in this scenario, the vehicle is the white horse our hero rides out on, but I’m more referring to these types of vision programs. They can be very fun to do, and I’d like to see us (us as in the design industry, profession, culture as a whole) start to be more humanistic and realistic about how we go about it… and by that I don’t mean mimicking the gesture of unlocking the door to activate some kind of no touch biometric authentication, as in the video.

Do you know what’s the most ironical thing about future visions in commercial: They show us where consuming may lead us. And then want to motivate us to consume more :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t think Dodge would predict an outbreak of ‘socialism’ in the US. That guy in the ad had to buy the robot first, before he could destroy it. And he bought it because of… TADA! Commercials! :sunglasses:

Even movies like I, Robot, Matrix, Bladr Runner and many others are somewhat commercials for themselves: We watch these movies to be entertained by dystopian terror and be somewhat happy not having to live like the ones in the film (leave aside the fans :smiley: ).

When I design a product, it is my job to come up with hundreds of ideas. Those ideas are critiqued by using the objectives of the end user, the brand, the competition, influencers, manufacturing capabilities, etc. Subjectivity is avoided as it can easily create giant pissing matches. “I don’t like blue.” is a subjective and silly reason to reject an idea. When the design process is done, you launch 1 thing from the hundreds of ideas that came before.

When a “future vision” is designed, hundreds of ideas can easily be generated. Except the 1 “future vision” that is created, is purely subjective. No one knows the future, there cannot be any objective criteria to vet the hundreds of ideas. The finished “future vision” is likely to be what is “liked” by the person with the most power in the group producing it. There is no end user, manufacturing capabilities, competition. There is only, “I like blue.”

The hundreds of ideas generated in such an exercise can be very useful. The end product is often ego-driven and tends to an exercise in subjective masterbation. Call me a cynic …

No end user? The end user is your audience, this is called communication design.

No objective criteria? The objective criteria from which to judge is experiential—does this vision piece bring a strategic notion to life? Does it express a holistic user experience that can inspire design teams?

No one knows the future? As designers we create the future; by designing products, services, and experiences that don’t yet exist.

There is a huge difference between “knowing” the future and communicating future scenarios. First thing has to be objective (or it would completely fail), second thing always has a manipulative background.


But only as an advertisement/vision/idea of the future. Since this is a product forum, my rant was directed at the specific future products within that vision. The future products are, in fact, subjective masterbation. My apologies if I was not clear in communicating my thoughts.

As for the ad/vision in the OP bringing a strategic notion to life. Dodge’s vision of the future is 40-year-old technology? I’d call that a failure at best and in the worst an insult to designers everywhere.