What impact will electric vehicles have on the design industry?

 
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In the last few years, a new type of vehicle has been steadily growing in popularity, and not just for being a sustainable alternative to conventional internal combustion engine powered cars. Electric vehicles are a turning point in the car industry, in terms of technology, interaction and design. The need for large and bulky engines has been removed allowing designers a greater design freedom.

EVs available to the public today look like the cars that we are accustomed to as they gradually enter the market, but there are many companies that are starting to challenge what the next generation of vehicles should be, what they should look like and how it should act and react.

Tesla, with their elegantly designed cars full of technology, popularised the electric car but there are also some newcomers such as Faraday Future, Nio and Byton which are entering the scene with a flair. Each brand has its own distinct personality but what makes their designs similar to each other is a sleek and aerodynamic surfacing, unique profiles and strong details found in elements like the headlights and wheel trims. 

 Concept car designs, such as those from Volvo and Aston Martin, have been showing similar trends like full curved glass roofs and spacious, multi-purpose and adaptable interiors. These interiors are only possible since electric vehicles do not need combustion engines or a gearbox. Designers are taking the interiors of a car into avenues it has never delved into before, moving away from the typical car interiors that we know. Aston Martin envisions luxurious seating that could face each other during autonomous driving mode, Volvo wants you to sleep inside of the vehicle while it takes you to your destination and Audi has introduced climbing plants into a natural interior, challenging the idea of what a car interior should normally be.

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Companies have also been experimenting with lights that elevate the car to a more premium level – Audi's concept AI:ME uses light to react to the environment, the placement and animation of light making it more visible to pedestrians and other vehicles and giving the car a unique aesthetic. Byton and Faraday Future style their lights in such a way that they become a key element of the Brand DNA. With all the screen technology developed in this decade, it is the perfect time to dream about what could be possible with exterior and interior car surfaces and lighting. Citroen has envisioned an interactive UI on the outer surface of the 19_19 concept's car door and this opens so much possibility of what car interaction could become.

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Citroen bravely takes EV design concepts and infuses styling that is bold and non-conformist, clearly the opposite end of the design spectrum compared to the elegant Tesla. For example, the Ami One concept is reminiscent of styling that was first seen on Smart cars with their compact form and strong colour breaks. Citroen emphasises the head and taillights with distinct and futuristic Y-styled, floating LEDs and the door handles take on a very non-car like style, the type of handle you would see on a product design like a Libratone Bluetooth speaker. This quality suits the Ami One as it is not necessarily a car; Citroen labels the Ami One as an "urban mobility object", an alternative to both bicycles and cars and could be used without a driver's license. So, it is almost comparable to electric scooters or hoverboards which are personal electric vehicles and has a potential for car sharing and rental opportunities. The designers have used bold, eclectic colours and graphic textures for the interior which gives it a young and fun vibe, which is perfect as an accessory. One feature that stands out with this design is the way the user could dock their phone onto the back of the steering wheel and could activate an AI assistant.

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Car interactivity also seems to be evolving, following in the current trend of AI, smart homes and devices. Like the Ami One, Nio have added an AI assistant in the front of the vehicle in the form of an animated robot called Nomi, giving the car an extra layer of personality and changing the overall interaction with the vehicle from an object that takes you from point A to B to something that could take a group selfie for you.

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There are many elements in these concepts that are achievable only because technology allows it. The combination of electric batteries, artificial intelligence, smart connected devices and screen technology to name a few allows us to envision something new that would be befitting of this next generation of vehicles. We are still at an experimental stage where the design is still fluid, and companies are exploring what could be.

At Designworks, the industrial design team are passionate about forward thinking design and curious about new future trends. The fresh wave of design freedom afforded to car designers has opened opportunities to explore all aspects of a cars design. These new design ideas and technologies could filter into other product sectors such as, home automation and other forms of transportation design, which is an exciting prospect. There are topics in this article that we would love to explore further so watch out for related articles in the future.