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Mobile Community Design
Research and design information for mobile community developers.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Porsche can tell us about UX design

I was recently in Germany and had the opportunity to tour the brand-new Porsche museum in Stuttgart. I certainly recommend going if you're in the area. While it is a different kind of mobility than I normally discuss on this blog, it is important to draw from different design disciplines when designing new products. In this case, Porsche has clearly gone far beyond making high-performance machines capable of doing airplane speeds on the ground, and long ago entered the realm of fine art and designing for exotic experiences. So perhaps those of us designing mobile phones and wearable computers of the future could learn a bit from how Porsche designers think about their products, and how they have managed to give consumers a whole new definition of how they can be mobile.

This is one of the original Porsche prototypes created. The aerodynamics seem a bit unrealistic but clearly there was a distinctive flowing shape from the beginning.

An early production model that had some amusing leather straps holding the engine compartment in place. Given the high degree of finish in the rest of this machine, this almost says "I can work on my own engine, and i'm modifying it for superior performance on a daily basis."

The actual Porsche race cars look quite a bit different, but they still have a flowing quality and look more like an alien space ship than something earthly.

This production model places the mirrors far in the front. I can't imagine that this makes it easier to see what is going on behind the car, but it does make the car look like it is about to take flight - which is perhaps a more important consideration - when you're going that fast you don't really need to know who's behind you - that isn't relevant. =)

The interiors of the cars change depending on their purpose. This one is a very basic older model designed for racing. It has only the bare minimum of interior to reduce weight and because it will only be used for short periods. Note the engineers labeling on the switches reminiscent of military tank/submarine designs.

The display here shows the extremely light weight frame inside of one of the race cars. In this case, the weight of the car is more important than many HCI related issues for the driver (as long as the driver can feel the car and drive it effectively).

I believe this was a future prototype concept. It has a nav display, leather interior, and a whimsical "mini-like" rounded set of radial gauges.

This set of gauges has a bubbly sequence of circles that make the interior more playful.

This is a minimal set of interior controls that are centrally mounted to allow for manipulation while steering, or by a passenger. The shifting mechanism appears to be a handle that can be switched to the left or the right. This could either be a manual shift or a swap between sport and city driving modes. The air vents are positioned to hit the hands and be in closer proximity to the driver.

This a clay mockup of the Porsche that can be used to craft the appearance of the car in early design stages. This certainly reinforces the concept of the Porsche being something closer to sculpture.

This is a cross-section of a car (cut in half) showing hte space avaialble for different types of components.

I really love the air vents in the Porsche, and I'm not exactly sure why. They do serve some function to cool the engine, but they also add to the 3D nature of the machine, and add a bit of mystery and aircraft qualities to it.

This is an example of one of the early race cars, which looks suspiciously like the cars in the movie Speed Racer.

The back of a Carerra, which is one of the most stylized Porsche models. Clearly the back of this car could have been designed in many different shapes without hindering speed very much, but this particular configuration is beautiful.

A luxury model with a unique shifting configuration in the center console. Leather is used generously and most of the interface looks non-digital and easily interacted with by touch while your eyes are on the road.

Speaking of air vents. The side of the Carerra is really amazing - the elongated cut into the door make the side of the vehicle appear much more stylized.

It seems like these engineers at this company don't act like normal engineers - in short they seem to be more focused on making things look awesome and exotic than making them functional. Or perhaps they have identified areas of the cars that can have extreme artistic liscence applied to them without hurting the car's performance. It would be interesting to find out how their engineering, design and marketing departments work together.

This is a digital display showing the range of Porsche vehicle models from the beginning to the present. Their point is that all of them have remained very true to the original vision.

A plackard mentions the importance of consistency at Porsche, indicating that the car has a "disctinctive silhouette" and that new materials and technologies can be accomodated within it.

A more modern interior, with more complexity in a digital console, and reverse color scheme to draw attention to the gauges. Also on-wheel controls have been added.

The museum has some intriguing audio dispalys that accomodate multiple people (a common flaw in digital museum exhibits). In these you are in a sound-cone and can hear the revving of the engines of different car models. Apparently they pay as much attention to this aspect of the user-experience as the Harley legal team does on their patented rumble.

The museum is pretty awesome in itself. Almost the entire museum is in shiny black and white, which allows the cars to really pop out and attract the attention that they deserve.

The museum is multi-level and you walk around the upstairs where all the cars are, and then decend downstairs for the cafe, museum and tours of the factory.

A real live Porsche parked across the street from the museum. Stuttgart is the "Porsche" city, while various other German cities are "Mercedez" or "BMW" cities. I saw numerous beautiful Porsches while driving around Stuttgart. Something to mention is that on the autobahn you can spot these cars going upwards of 200 mph (we got passed in our BMW once). Thus, in Germany there is actually a practical use for having a car that can go this fast, but in the US you're primarily just buying it for the attention it draws unless you frequent a race track.