Post 053. Systematic Intuition: UX From Beyond The Driver’s Seat

Mercedes-Benz 190 sedan

Cars are a uniquely holistic experience of design. As case studies, the definitive aesthetics of certain makes and models echo a nearly naturalistic cohesiveness to the integrated elements and materials of their design, a systematic intuition from the user’s perspective.

Oversimplifying design motifs usually results in boring design. Using systematic intuition to bring an object’s design together across levels and layers of experience and interaction is about more than squareness, roundness, or triangleness. Systematic intuition is about line, harmony, and most important, fluency. Iconic car designs illustrate this beautifully, like few products do.

In the current auto market where novelty is a rather transparent business requirement, carmakers often futz with relatively inconsequential elements of the car, like headlights and taillights, and trunk (or “boot” in the UK) shape to freshen up a model for a given year and suggest the obsolescence of an existing model (looking at you, Audi). While innovation is accelerating time to market (from years to just under two, currently, in some cases(1)), and tooling might be able to match auto executives, marketers, and their [pawn] designers’ whims, there’s something disingenuous about doing so with a $35,000–$50,000 product. Cars should last and their design should endure both mechanically and aesthetically for longer than a lease term.

Iconic design is irrefutably harmonious and pure, there is virtually no beginning or end. Wherever and however you see and experience it it is whole. The only comparable model is nature. Man has achieved something second to none in the most iconic car designs as branded objects. These iconic designs simultaneously and effortlessly brand as little as a glimpse of the car in most cases. The brand is both peripheral and obvious.

Again, today novelty is the name of the game. Marketing teams and consumers keep the design gymnastics in constant motion, whether the product is a car, a diet, or a pen. Design innovation is a sales gimmick. As copywriters know, “new” is one of the most persuasive words you can use(2).

The design process is virtual: Anything is possible in a 3D render that can be robotically realized. Yes, this is wonderful, but so is the resistance of materials to processes achieved by hand.

While cars and computers are hard examples of systematic intuition—and iconic cars may be a specifically enigmatic example of fluent design thinking, emotion and execution—most design now makes human contact in a soft way, systematic intuition applies to user experience (UX).

The underlying elements of the experience are formal and flat: line, color, pattern/texture, etc., but the requirements remain emotional, and the material resistance is now in code. Systematic intuition is an evolutionary design tool that is most beneficial when design process is an aerobic interaction of:

  • Empathetic connection
  • Reverence, visceral consumption beyond appreciation, to the limitations and traditions of product design
  • The plasticity of imagination to contour design as communication to often dematerialized media in fresh but familiar signals and interactions, yeah branding matters, but the more it’s an integral effect of aesthetic satisfaction the better.

How design shapes experience is increasingly an expression of “how” instead of “what.” History is of course a wise guide: creating connected experiences is as much a product of a creative process now, as it was when you look beneath the rust and dust into the designer’s journey of the past.

(1) ”Even Faster to Market: What’s Next for the Vehicle Industry?” Adexa, Inc.

(2) ”The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language”

Image: Mercedes-Benz 190, Napa, CA, October 26, 2014