Reading Week 19 August

19 August 2016 | by Farah Alkhalisi

Car design needs to have a context. Whether that's market trends in the here-and-now, or projections and predictions as to how people are going to travel around in the future, designers cannot – and must not – work in a vacuum.

But we also realise there is so much information flying around it's difficult to keep track and pick out the relevant things from the noise. With this in mind, we've rounded up some thought-provoking, inspiring and otherwise interesting stories we've read this week...

What are the design jobs and roles of the future? Fast Company Design asked representatives from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Autodesk and Ideo (plus some smaller but influential studios and agencies) how they think design, as a profession, is going to evolve.

It will become a much more inter-disciplinary, cross-sector and technology-driven 'fusionist' field, was the feedback: the job ads of the future could call for designers working on augmented reality, avatar programming (like for Bentley's holographic butler, pictured above), drone and concierge services, cybernetics, embodied interactions, machine learning, intelligent systems, nanotech, simulated behaviour and even synthetic biologies and human organs. Plenty of opportunities in the transportation and mobility sector – beyond product-oriented 'car design' – then?

Audi's latest announcement on its in-car tech goes a little way to illustrate the above, and the growing demands on interface (and UX) design. Selected US models from next year will be offered with a traffic light countdown, enabled by vehicle-to-infrastructure communication: time until the green light will be depicted on the head-up display, as well as informing drivers if they have time to make it through that light turning red. Useful safety information, or additional stress and impatience? And additionally to accommodate in an Audi HMI: the recently-confirmed 'Fit Driver' digital healthcare monitoring. For both, design will surely determine these features' success or benefits.

Ford's autonomous-driving intentions – to have Level 4-capable vehicles in operation by 2021 – have an important dimension: these cars will be developed specifically for ride-sharing and ride-hailing services, rather than for private individual purchase or lease. Is this is a chance for innovative purpose-specific, ground-up design, or will Ford keep these vehicles close to their mainstream DIY equivalents? It's already talking about operation without steering wheel, brakes or accelerator.

We hear a lot about form following function, and in the most literal interpretation of this, you can end up with a vehicle which isn't exactly pretty. An example of this is the DHL StreetScooter, developed for the courier giant by a team based at Aachen University, and now heading into production. This electric vehicle has been designed for low cost, maximum efficiency and usability (no bad criteria, of course); it is based around a modular structure which can accommodate different body-styles including convertible and 3+1 passenger-carrying configurations besides the small van as supplied to Deutsche Post. As we make the tricky transition to electromobility, perhaps we'll see more vehicles like this developed within new partnerships beyond the usual OEMs and consultancies – and some different aesthetic and design values.

Arup, a multinational engineering consultancy, has just released a report on the Future of Rail. It's not just an interesting read for forward-thinking trainspotters: it contains a thoughtful discussion of both transportation trends and broader societal megatrends, all of which will have an impact on mobility beyond the railway system. Cars do figure in this vision – they play a role in an integrated multi-modal transport network – and we've spotted some little driverless pods (based at railway stations) in Arup's infographic, as well.