MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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Gorgeous to look at and lovely to touch

6185wpvvyjl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_crop Gary Hamel, in his “Management 2.0” blog in the Wall Street Journal, references “Detroit-itis” to describe the failures of industries other than autos to use design to transform their products and, as a result, their industries, as Apple did.

We have a sense that "Detroit," as the representative term for the American automotive industry, has made significant but unrecognized advances in styling, in design, and in performance.

There may be many reasons why this is not yet acknowledged in Congress, in the press, and in consulting blogs, but there could also be a substantial reason in consumer perception. That is, shopping, buying, and owning an automobile in most cases still carries the stigma, if not the reality, of uncomfortable and unsatisfying experiences.

Apple's key transformation from similar cultures in the computer industry was not only with their product design and performance, but also in the retail experience. Apple's transformation includes an alignment of place with product in all of its aspects---the physical environment iterating the brand attributes, its people acting as consultants rather than salesmen, the Genius Bar elevating not only what is offered but also the status of the owner---and contributes to the perception of quality, the attribution of value to the brand, and the development of an enthusiast culture in the extension of the customer’s relationship.

And then there's the App Store. An extraordinarily exuberant marketplace formed around the iPhone created by Apple and suppliers who provide customized mini-modules fitting the iPhone platform, but selectable and customizable by any user.

There are at least six businesses inside an auto dealership—new car sales, used car sales, service, parts and accessories, finance and insurance. Individually and collectively they provide rich opportunities to Apple-ise the experience.

But as the market and products shift from the familiar conventions of internal combustion, to electric, hybrid and hydrogen propulsion systems, and as the “skateboard” potential of emerging vehicle architecture allows greater customization, what we call a car and who we are as consumers becomes very different. As new vehicles with new embedded technologies emerge, these legacy businesses may be joined by opportunities to engage differently in the dealership environment—to offer training, personalization, maintenance and upgrades, and other consulting services. These new businesses will provide a context for transformational retail models. Rather than simply a setting for objects, the dealership can become a place for an extended and satisfying experience.

The Apple model provides a great example to explore for a shift in who a dealer is and what a dealership looks like. It offers an opportunity to use physical and experiential design to draw car buyers for, as Hamel call it, “the sheer, stupid joy of interacting with something that was gorgeous to look and lovely to touch,” and more.

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Detroit Wildlife

Florent Tillon has made a video on its way to becoming a movie, about Detroit. He says, "...the vision of Detroit that other people have around the world is more a Mad Max picture than anything else... When I was there this summer, I found something else, really, very far from this reputation : I founded great people, wonderful landscape, and a life rather pleasant, after all..." [vimeo]

more about Detroit Wildlife

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A reason to support the auto companies

One of the reasons frequently cited for the bailout of the American car manufacturers was the strategic, and perhaps nostalgic, role they played/play in national security and defense. Someone asked: Who builds the tanks these days? I don't really know, but here's some of the past. 408478188_cc7a6ee886_ovia things magazine

Utopian visions--building in cornfields

Recently there has been this and this about the disappearing reality of the city. One of the more exquisite programs to come to television, only to die for its quality, was “EZ Streets.” (1996)

Among the most compelling images on the program was in its opening credits (as I remember them). A helicopter shot…circling over a city, one sees a closer and closer vision of devastation as the camera descends to the scene of the core action. At first you see a recognizable urban pattern, but then the camera reveals block after block of urban decay, focusing eventually on blocks of six, or three, or one standing house or building.

This place—the never-recovered city of Detroit after the 1967 riots—featured prominently in this very dark program about civic corruption. Among the most memorable scenes in the series took place in an abandoned (aren’t they all now) Albert Kahn designed factory. A newly-elected, young, first black mayor of the city, standing among the cadence of concrete-capitaled columns, has his family threatened unless he votes for the casino initiative in the city.

I remember, as then-president of Detroit’s AIA chapter, calling Dennis Archer, a new, but not the first, black mayor of the city, to offer the organization’s site-selection and zoning assistance after he threw his support behind a new casino initiative. This was about three years after this scene appeared on “EZ Streets.”

Now, more than ten years later, Detroit’s latest mayor is in jail, one of the three licensed casinos is in bankruptcy, Congress has denied funds for the sustainability of the city-sustaining automobile industry, and the city lacks the funds to demolish the abandoned and progressively collapsing houses I have seen on my drive to work every day for the past decade, that represent the move of more than a million—more than a million!—people from this city in the past generation.

When I was working on the design of the Chrysler Technical Center —the move of the auto maker from Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood to the suburbs beginning a decade earlier in 1988—we often talked about planning for that which was left behind in the city. One of the more startling images was offered by a Chrysler exec, “We should turn Highland Park into a cornfield,” he said. “Everybody wants to build in a cornfield.”

I think I’ll start planting.