Designing Mobility

For 70,000 years humans have been on the move, to explore, discover and experience the beyond. The ability to move has been a fundamental part of our survival, our evolution and our instincts. Our evolution into humans can be defined as our ability to walk extended distances comfortably on two legs, and as we have evolved further we have created ingenious forms of transport which have revolutionised our societies.

These transport solutions were the catalyst for the industrial revolution and the globalisation of know-how and resources. From the dugout canoe and the domestication of horses 6,000 years ago, to harnessing the wind with sails, the steam engine from 1700, and the bicycle from 1817. It has been the internal combustion engine, though, and it’s thirst for oil which has given us the ability of mass transportation of people and goods around the world with ease.

The introduction of the automobile has given us personal freedom to move as we please. Our cars tap into our instinctive desire to travel, giving us a sense of power. The thrill of acceleration and speed. The car has become a symbol of our status, a reflection of our egos, becoming as much an emotional purchase as a practical one. For this reason design has always played a key role in the development of the automobile. Car design has helped manufacturers to differentiate themselves, creating their unique brand identities. The designs have evolved as technologies have progressed, expressing the performance of the vehicles, the power of their engines, and design trends that have changed as societal needs and desires have.

After an incredible 100 years with an ever increasing impact on our daily lives, there is a perfect storm of change happening to the automotive industry, brought on by the climate crisis, legislation, break-throughs in technology, the pandemic, wars, and a societal shift in consciousness. The status symbol of the car will change with a new social consciousness as our needs for mobility change too. Legislation and technological change will bring in an inevitable move to electrification and with that the role of design and the opportunities for innovation will grow.

The following are some of the key trends that we will face when designing mobility solutions for a more sustainable future:

Designing Electric

The move to electric power is inevitable, and the experience of driving and owning an electrical vehicle is quite a different experience from the visceral driving experience of an ICE vehicle. This will be reflected in the new designs of electric vehicles. The roar of an internal combustion engine and the manual transmission of power have given many of us great enjoyment. The thrill of acceleration and speed; a sense of harnessing power. The representation of this power has been and continues to be the main design theme in ICE vehicles. With wheel sizes increasing and haunches over them to give the car the look of a muscular animal ready to bound forward. Driving electric though is a different experience – simpler, quieter, calmer – and as our view on car ownership and the social status of the car changes, so too will the design.

Up until now electric cars have often taken on a somewhat quirky, ‘edgy’, angular look, to differentiate them from ICE cars. Most of these electric cars have been built off of ICE platforms, though, and don’t really show what the future of car design will be. There is the obvious lack of a grill for the front radiator, and an emphasis on aerodynamics to increase range. The big opportunity, however, will be the change in architecture as the batteries and engine can be positioned away from the front of the vehicle as they don’t have the same cooling requirements, enabling us to rethink how we layout the vehicles of tomorrow. One logical solution for the battery layout is in the chassis as a “skateboard” platform. This will make vehicles taller, but will also give more space for the occupants and goods to be carried.


As electrification takes over and digitisation becomes more prevalent, the interfaces and interaction between man and machine will drive brand differentiation and loyalty, especially as the vehicles become increasingly connected. Our cars will receive regular updates, and as they become increasingly autonomous the interiors of our cars will become more architectural and less sport orientated.


One of the key aspects of developing sustainable mobility solutions is efficiency, and we need to continually ask: what is the most efficient way of moving someone or something from A to B?

As there will continue to be increasing choice in our modes of transport, it will be important that each solution we design is a comfortable, safe, and desirable experience. The solution naturally depends on what is being transported as well as the length and type of journey. For longer journeys, the most efficient solution will be a multi modal solution, with a mix of private and public transport. It will also be a mix of propulsion systems as the various types of fuel have differing efficiencies depending on the size and type of vehicle and level of infrastructure available. Electric is most efficient in smaller vehicles over shorter distances, ICE engines for longer distances, and hydrogen will also become a viable solution for storing renewable energies and for longer range solutions. As electrification takes off, the urban environment will see a boom in micro mobility solutions, once legislation enables and opens up innovation in this space.

Mobility as a Service (Maas)

The shift away from our current linear economy to a circular one could perhaps be amongst the strongest catalysts for our changing relationship with mobility in modern times. In the current state of affairs, manufacturers are inclined to make as much profit as possible from the original sale of a vehicle, after which they stand to gain very little financially from the owners experience with it. While durability plays an important role in maintaining brand reputation, there’s an acceptance that the vehicles of today have an expiry date.

But what if that were not the case? What if OEMs operated a service model instead? With customers able to change their mind more frequently without absorbing the considerable costs and effort of selling a vehicle on, the ownness moves to the manufacturer to maintain their fleet of vehicles, and more importantly, to design them in a way to make them easy to fix.

This doesn’t change the fact that businesses operate primarily to make a profit, but is does fundamentally change the way they’d go about achieving this. After all, the more components that are able to be repaired rather than replaced, the lower the overall cost to the business and the stronger their bottom line. While this gravitational shift for OEMs isn’t going to happen in the industry right away, we’re already seeing MaaS start-ups like Onto offer turn-key solutions that combine vehicles with charging, insurance, servicing, and road tax on monthly rolling contracts. Onto also offer the option to swap your vehicle monthly if you wish.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to push traditionally large purchases like homes and vehicles further out of reach for younger generations, it’s hard to believe the allure of the subscription-based pricing that’s become so popular in so many other industries won’t stand to impact expectations from consumers over the years ahead.

Furthermore, will the added flexibility offered to consumers with a MaaS model lead to more vehicles being designed for specific use cases?

Specialisation and Collaboration

The commoditisation of batteries and electric drivetrains will mean that the barriers to entry for new manufacturers will decrease, allowing for more vehicle variants off of modular platforms. This will create a proliferation of vehicle types, new niche vehicle segments, and more specific products for specific needs. The large OEM’s will still dominate the market with products that satisfy a broader range of needs, but the gaps in between these products will grow.

For this to happen there will need to be a leaner, faster approach to product development. The most efficient and effective way to develop new products is through collaboration, with small highly specialized independent groups coming together to get the job done. Smaller companies by nature are more dynamic and agile to suit the needs of their customers, their competitiveness being their know-how rather than their economies of scale. Smaller groups have a much higher percentage of doers, and those doers are more efficient as they are incentivised to make decisions. Decision-making is much easier in a smaller company as there are not the multiple layers of management as there are in larger companies, with differing agendas, and lengthy review processes.

Many start-up companies and more established manufacturers are turning to a business model with external specialists for their product development and manufacturing. This enables the parent company to act and behave in a nimble, dynamic way, turning on resources when needed, getting to market quickly with first mover advantage, and giving a return to their investors quickly too.