Enhancing industrial capability to innovate in vehicle design, for commercial, societal and environmental benefit
Submitting InstitutionRoyal College of Art
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Information Systems
Engineering: Civil Engineering
Summary of the impact
Vehicle and mobility design research carried out at the Royal College of
Art (RCA) since 1993 has resulted in industrial innovation in vehicles and
transport, both nationally and internationally, enhancing industry's
ability to provide commercial, societal and environmental benefits between
2008 and 2013. The areas in which we are claiming impact include
accessible, user-centred transport (Impact 1); future visions of public
service vehicles and systems (Impact 2); and innovation in vehicle design
for changing technologies (Impact 3). These impacts are produced through
design and consultancy. Corroboration of impact takes the form of public
records of achievements, and authentication by manufacturers.
The RCA developed the first Master's programme in Vehicle Design in the
world in 1969; its graduates are in leadership positions in automotive and
transport organisations internationally. Staff are practising researchers,
designers and consultants. Vehicle Design collaborates with the Helen
Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD), whose expertise on `design for all' began
with DesignAge (1991), investigating the transportation needs of an ageing
The research team, led by Professor Dale Harrow (1989-present; currently
Dean, Design) includes Professor Roger Coleman (1991-2009; currently
Professor Emeritus); Professor Peter Stevens (1973-85 Founder Lecturer
Vehicle Design; 1999-date Visiting Professor Vehicle Design); Merih Kunur
(2003-present; currently Senior Research Associate); Rama Gheerawo
(1999-present; currently Deputy Director HHCD); Owen Evans (2002-3,
Research Associate) and Serge Porcher (2005-6, Research Associate).
Research leading to Impact 1, accessible, user-centred transport:
in 1997, Coleman and Harrow presented a paper which addressed population
ageing and environmental concerns as important factors in designing future
transport [s3.1]. They proposed a shift from 'a car for all' to 'mobility
for all'. These ideas informed the practice-based research for Harrow's
contribution to the re-design of the London taxicab with Pentagram (1999).
Harrow incorporated the concept of inclusive mobility, using observation
and interviews with a range of disability cases and groups, and cultural
perceptions of the London cab tradition. The TX1 was awarded Millennium
Product status by the Design Council (1999). Gheerawo, Kunur and Harrow
subsequently argued for increasing adoption of user-centred design
approaches to vehicles (2006) [s3.2].
Research leading to Impact 2, future visions of public service
vehicles and systems: Coleman and Harrow (2000) [s3.3], argued for a shift
from the dominance of privately-owned vehicles to a service view of
transport, based on enhanced mobility for all. Kunur confronted the
tension between private demands for transport and public systems (2006)
[s3.4]. He undertook research for Capoco, which has designed two-thirds of
UK buses, on sustainable bus systems [s3.5] and with Intel (co-author
Gheerawo) on the relationship between mobility and digital systems (2007).
These investigations foregrounded user research as an integral part of the
process of design for transport and vehicles. Evans's practice-based
research for Optare developed a mixed-use vehicle that brought local
services to people in isolated rural communities [s3.6].
Research leading to Impact 3, innovation in vehicle design for
changing technologies: a special contribution of RCA research is to
combine advanced technical expertise with innovative design thinking, to
integrate aesthetic considerations with functional innovation. Engineering
solutions alone risk failing to appeal to the users' needs and desires.
This integrated approach helps manufacturers to create products that are
commercially successful, as well as safe, accessible and efficient.
Porcher researched a radical modernisation of the vehicle control surface
for Visteon, re-conceived as software-based and customisable (2004-5). He
developed a hierarchical system of in-car information, displayed by means
of rear-projection within the area normally occupied by a conventional
dashboard [s3.7]. Stevens's practice-based research, from the 1990s to
date, focuses on combining efficiency with aesthetic appeal. He is the
designer of iconic cars such as the McLaren F1 and models for Lotus and
BMW. Four research outputs submitted to RAE 2001 [s3.8] were: (1) Subaru
Impreza World Rally Car, 1997, Type: Design, Client: Prodrive; (2) Le Mans
Racing Car, 1999, Type: Design, Client: BMW Motorsport; (3) GT One Road
and Race Car Interior, 1998, Type: Design, Client: Toyota Team Europe; (4)
F1 Supercar Derivatives, 1994, Type: Design, Client: McLaren Cars. With
weight a key factor in vehicle efficiency, the Stevens-designed MG SV
(2002) used composite panels developed by him in association with Gurit
(a global leader in advanced composite materials). He worked with
Ecotricity on new methods of airflow management, reducing aerodynamic
drag, and on specific cooling requirements of an ultra-high performance
electric vehicle (2010) [s3.9].
References to the research
The originality of the research is evident from the importance attached
to it by the research users, who are leaders in their fields; the rigour
by the quality of the solutions; its significance by the prestige of the
users, its ambition and longevity. As is characteristic for this industry,
some research is disseminated through peer-reviewed outputs but most is
undertaken confidentially for clients and is not therefore validated by
third parties until the resulting design solutions are in use.
3.2) Gheerawo, R., Kunur, M. and Harrow, D., `Beyond product design -
user centred design methods for vehicle designers', in Clarkson et al.
(eds.) Designing Accessible Technology, Proc. 3rd Cambridge Workshop on
Universal Access and Assistive Technology (CWUAAT), University of
Cambridge, 10-12/04/06 (Springer, 2006).
3.4) Kunur, M., `Local needs in urban transport', in Nieuwenhuis et al.
(eds.) The Business of Sustainable Mobility: from Vision to Reality
(Greenleaf, 2006), 187-95.
3.5) Ponsford, A. (Capoco Design) and Kunur, M. (2007) `The mobility PPT
automated urban mobility system "See the future today"', World Electric
Vehicle Association Journal (2007), 1.
3.8) Stevens, P., Four research outputs submitted to RAE 2001, <http://goo.gl/kah52k>,
Details of the impact
Impact 1: Accessible, user-centred transport. The impact of the
taxi design is represented by the longevity and adaptation of Harrow's
original concept and by the recent award of a research contract by a major
international taxi manufacturer. The TX1 model London Taxi (Harrow working
for Pentagram) was the first to address accessibility, setting the agenda
for all future models. It continues in use in London and many other
cities, alongside its evolutions, the TXII and TX4. Cumulative production
total for the three models was over 31,300 at 2012 [s5.1]. The company was
acquired by Geely of China; the London Mayor has highlighted the key
features of the design as a `world famous, fully accessible and instantly
recognisable vehicle synonymous with London' [s5.2]. Geely will invest
£150m in the Coventry factory and develop a TX5 model. Following this
work, Harrow was approached by Hexagon, a Turkish automotive manufacturer
(£216m turnover in 2010), for research towards a highly accessible and
iconic new taxi. Two of five work packages (value £58,000 each) have
already been agreed and begun (total value £290,605) [s5.3]. The benefits
identified by the client include (1) understanding of the specific
cultural dimensions of the London and UK taxi markets, with an influence
extending beyond the UK; (2) expertise in comprehensive inclusive design,
including, but not limited to, functional accessibility.
Impact 2: Future visions of public service vehicles and systems.
The impacts lie in the capability of two companies to design for the
future. Kunur and Evans's research benefited Capoco, which has
maintained a 60-65% share of the UK city bus market over the last 15
years. The company's city bus products have outsold the combined imports
from Mercedes, Volvo, Scania, DAF, MAN, Iveco and Renault by a factor of
2:1 over the past decade. Capoco also carries out design projects for the
leading manufacturers in North America, Asia (India and China) and Africa.
The research helped position it as a company with a future vision focused
on systemic approaches. The benefits identified by Capoco include: (1)
dealing with issues beyond the normal remit of its in-house team, helping
the firm to envision strategy for the next 25 years; (2) enabling it to
demonstrate the future potential of existing technologies when combined
through innovative design; (3) creating exposure and esteem for Capoco
internationally, for example, the selection of Mobilicity for the Michelin
Design Challenge, where the project won the Outstanding Design Award; the
work was included in an exhibition at the Science Museum in 2006 <http://goo.gl/Fg2Nme>;
publications and broadcasts outlining the project's concept to a receptive
public; (4) it strengthened Capoco's commercial ties with Optare; (5)
Capoco describes the RCA work as `a perfect calling card to our global
clients around the world', augmenting the reputation of its past products
by using Mobilicity to assure new clients of Capoco's innovative edge
[s5.4]. Kunur and Gheerawo also contributed to a highly praised handbook
used by the Norwegian Design Council as part of its training courses for
business (see s5.5 for testimonials with affiliations). Evans's research
led to a new vehicle by Optare that enhanced the firm's
capabilities and led to new projects. In 2010, Optare became part of Ashok
Leyland, one of the top five global bus manufacturers. India's largest
commercial vehicle conglomerate, the Hinduja Group, bought a 26% stake,
increased to 75.1% in 2012. Using the existing Optare Alero as a basis,
Evans developed a purpose-designed community-service vehicle (CSV) which
the company deemed `an interesting and viable vehicle solution to provide
essential services to the community [...] a replacement to the rather
archaic mobile libraries and health clinics that were operating at the
time'. As a result of the project, Optare has subsequently developed its
share of the CSV market and successfully produced several other community
(non-bus) vehicles. Optare was also able to introduce a new model in 2012:
the Bonito minibus designed for local communities and offering full
wheelchair accessibility [s5.6].
Impact 3: Innovation in vehicle design for changing technologies.
Porcher's research with Visteon has had long-term benefits for the
research group and the company. Visteon, a leading global automotive
corporation, supplies vehicle manufacturers through a family of
businesses. Generating sales of more than $12 billion in 2012, including
unconsolidated operations, Visteon has facilities in 28 countries and
employs approximately 55,000 people. Porcher, through his user-centred
rethinking of the instrument panel, enabled the company to explore and
demonstrate in-car information and controls of the future, both to inform
internal research and to demonstrate its forward-thinking to customers.
This has had long-term benefits for the company, providing a basis for the
driver information reorganisation in subsequent concepts (X-Wave,
C-Beyond, e-Bee). The company confirms that Porcher's input was integral
to building a clear vision of the context of use, now and in the future
[s5.7 and s5.8]. Ecotricity acknowledges the special contribution
of Stevens to high-performance electric vehicles. The outcome was a
vehicle that took the UK electric land speed record in 2012 [s5.9]. The
company's understanding of the harsh environmental conditions under which
very high-output electrical systems operate was considerably advanced by
this project [s5.9]. Stevens contributed to `master classes by eight
British celebrity innovators' in a tour of China at the invitation of the
British Council (2009) [s5.10].
Sources to corroborate the impact
Copies of all sources to corroborate the impact are available from the
HEI upon request. Note: In relation to Stevens's research, the impacts
evidenced in this case study represent only a fraction of his
achievements: some manufacturers were reluctant to divulge his
contribution, even confidentially.
5.1) Source data from <https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/vehicle-licensing-statistics>,
5.2) China Auto Web, `Geely bought Manganese Bronze, maker of London
taxis' (01/02/13) <http://chinaautoweb.com/2013/02/geely-bought-manganese-bronze-maker-of-london-taxis/>,
5.3) Letter from Managing Director, Hexagon Studio (dated 25/11/13).
5.4) Letter from Design Director, Capoco Design Limited (dated 03/07/13).
5.5) Norwegian Design Council (2013) `Innovating with people: `the
business of inclusive design', <http://innovatingwithpeople.net/en/>
5.6) Letter from Deputy CEO, Optare Group Limited (dated October 2013).
5.7) Letter from Visteon Corporation (dated 12/11/13).
5.8) Helen Walters, `Art and business: A royal combination', Bloomberg
Business Week, 19/03/07 <http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-03-19/art-and-business-a-royal-combinationbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice>,
5.9) Ecotricity, `The `Nemesis' smashes UK electric car land-speed
accessed 02/11/13); and letter from Founder of Ecotricity (dated
5.10) British Embassy China, news release, 07/05/09