Together with private and public partners, the research and development project etrans at the Kolding School of Design is creating the basis for making the electric car a commercial and environmental success in Denmark. The project uses the method of interaction-driven design to develop the infrastructure and the services needed to make Danish drivers embrace the electric car. One of the participants is the company ChoosEV, which is engaged in a project that gathers knowledge from a real-life test, where 2,400 Danish families try out the electric car in their everyday lives.
By Hans Emborg Bünemann
Interaction-driven design is a key word in the research and development project etrans at the Kolding School of Design, which aims to make the electric car a commercial success in Denmark. A wide range of actors with a variety of interests have a stake in the electric car, says etrans’ project manager, Mette Mikkelsen. The job is to coordinate their efforts, for example in developing an infrastructure for the electric cars and the services needed to move Danish drivers into the electric cars.
As part of their cooperation with the various actors in the electric car field, the team of researchers and designers in the etrans project has launched the concept of interaction-driven design as a further methodical development of the common user-driven and design-driven approaches. The interaction-driven method aims to get past the strong focus on the particular roles played by the user and the designer in the innovation process.
“By focusing on the dynamics of the interaction itself, the interaction-driven method lets all the stakeholders contribute,” Mette Mikkelsen explains. “The method makes it easier to manage complex processes and to include valuable input from a wide variety of stakeholders during the process.”
As an example of the complexity Mette Mikkelsen mentions the challenge of finding the right locations for the charging stations in the urban space and of optimising their function for users and stakeholders as well as everybody else who uses the public space. The power companies and the windmill sector prefer to charge electric car batteries at night when the renewable energy accounts for the largest share of the power mix. Developers need to know about the thickness of the power cables and their precise location underground. Municipal planners, who certify the charging stations, need to ensure that the chargers are safe, both for the cyclists rushing by and for a child with curious fingers. Mette Mikkelsen says that this is where the approach of interaction-driven design really proves its worth.
“All the stakeholders need to be involved in the development process because they have needs and demands that, even if they are not necessarily incompatible, do point in different directions,” she explains. “Innovation usually emerges as the result of the interaction, negotiation and inspiration that occurs in the encounter of stakeholders with different perspectives.”
The basic premise for the etrans project was that the proliferation of a more environmentally friendly form of transportation than the petrol and diesel-driven vehicles is more of a need for society as a whole than for the individual drivers, who can, after all, cover their transportation needs with conventional cars. Mette Mikkelsen explains that the etrans project considers drivers’ needs a social and cultural construct that is created in a so-called game of meaning.
“Needs emerge in the dynamic process that creates meaning for all of us: end-users, designers, media and marketing people. This is a game of meaning where we all take part, playing different roles,” she says.
|Charged with emotions. Anthropological field studies reveal an unemotional and practical approach to transportation in many women, while men tend to be more emotional, talking, for example, of the great experience of feeling the acceleration power of the car. |
Illustration: Mir Toftemark Nielsen
The game of meaning acts as a platform for innovation. Through extensive anthropological field studies, the design researchers involved in etrans have achieved insight into the daily transportation needs, values, environmental profile etc. of various user groups. This study provides an insight into the image that various segments have of themselves as car-users, and thus also of the meaning that they attribute to their car. This knowledge forms a common platform for all the actors that are involved in the interaction-driven process to create solutions that will ensure the breakthrough of the electric car in the Danish market.
Mette Mikkelsen says that the user studies reveal interesting differences between, for example, men’s and women’s relationship with their car.
“While for women, having access to a car is mostly about the ability to get from point A to point B and back again on an everyday basis, many men express a highly emotional relationship with their car. They speak of shape, colour, sensuality and the pleasure of driving when they speak of their car,” she says.
The challenges related to the wide range of stakeholders and to transferring a societal need to the potential customers hits the nail on the head in terms of understanding the reality that the electric car industry has to navigate. IT consultant Anders Nissen from the company ChoosEV, which is involved in testing and selling electric cars in the Danish market, describes it as absolutely essential to capture the ‘softer’ values that are uncovered in etrans’ studies.
“The electric car market is a young market, and we need to learn about the market segments that exist in Denmark,” he says.
Together with 30 Danish municipalities ChoosEV is currently delivering electric cars to 2,400 families who will test the cars as part of the project TestEnElBil (TestAnElectricCar). The test pilots commit to blogging about their experiences during a three-month test period, and in this process etrans plays an important role, for example by training ChoosEV’s project coordinators to act as moderators to stimulate the dialogue on the blog.
“The test families should provide as much useful knowledge as possible,” says Anders Nissen. “Along the way we will probably include other actors as well in order to have a variety of perspectives interact. For example, it’s important for us to learn about the users’ experiences with the charging pistol that they insert into the car to charge the battery. How does it work when it is used by, respectively, a senior citizen and a teenager? This is where etrans can help make the online blog a great medium for interaction among motorists, designers and manufacturers.”
Already now, test drivers are providing valuable knowledge and experience on the online blog. For example, the blog reveals that it is not only people who take a special interest in the environment or in new technology who are excited about the electric car. Anders Nissen mentions an elderly couple who noted with pleasure, “We don’t even have to turn up the hearing aid to have a conversation as we normally do when we’re driving.”
|Data flow. ChoosEV compiles technical data from the test cars, findings from a survey carried out in cooperation with DTU Transport, from the anthropological study by the etrans-projct at the Kolding School of Design and from an online blog. The compiled information is then processed and conveyed to the project stakeholders via the internet. |
The blog is one example of the way in which ChoosEV uses their cooperation with etrans to improve their ability to manage a large number of stakeholders and a large amount of qualitative and quantitative empirical data. The computers in the test cars provide technical information about the test-drivers’ driving habits, routines related to charging the car, driving style etc. This data is combined with knowledge from etrans’ anthropological study and from a survey carried out by DTU Transport & ChoosEV, and the composite data is made available to the project stakeholders.
“With knowledge from a combination of qualitative and quantitative data we can develop solutions that on the one hand address the users’ needs and on the other hand include other stakeholders, for example the power companies and their wish to charge the electric cars at night. With this, we also accommodate society’s need to ensure more environmentally friendly energy production,” says Anders Nissen.
At the Kolding School of Design, Mette Mikkelsen expects the interactive design process to result in commercially viable business concepts and service solutions for the electric car sector. In addition, the etrans project should contribute to the establishment of company clusters in the value chain that the electric car is part of.
“Our goal is to use interaction-driven design to speed up the market development for electric cars and ultimately to convince the Danes that the electric car has a place in their everyday life,” she says.
The research and development project etrans and the project partners
etrans is a research and development project at the Kolding School of Design, which aims to facilitate the introduction of electric cars in Denmark and encourage the Danes to replace their petrol- or diesel-fuelled vehicles with electric cars. The project is funded by DongEnergy, the Growth Forum of the Region of Southern Denmark, the European Regional Development Fund, the Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority, the Innovation Forum of the Triangle Region Denmark, Fredericia Municipality and the Kolding School of Design.
Additional partners: ChoosEV, Aarstiderne, APC by Schneider Electric, Cleantech Motors, Falck, Have Kommunikation, Hjem-Is, Middelfart Sparekasse, Peugeot, Sixt Danmark, Statoil, Think, TrygVesta, Greendrive, FDM and VELFAC.
Read more here: http://www.etrans.dk/index.php?id=12
TestEnElBil is a project that aims to make it convenient and viable to use the electric car both for business purposes and as a family car in private households.
Read more here: www.testenelbil.dk (in Danish)
The project TestEnElBil (TestAnElectricCar) is driven by the Danish company ChoosEV, which focuses on renewable energy and a green environment. ChoosEV is owned by Syd Energi a.m.b.a., SEAS-NVE a.m.b.a. and the car rental firm Sixt Danmark A/S.
Read more here: www.choosev.com (in Danish)