December 19, 2012

Thoughts on the innovation process
By Simon Harris

The more we participate in innovation, the more we find it is not a destination but a journey; and less about providing answers than about asking questions.

The launch of our e-Bee vehicle concept lays down a new marker in Visteon’s progress as an organisation capable not only of developing innovative technology but also of establishing a clear vision of the context of its use, now and in the future. The e-Bee Project represents advancements in our understanding of how to bring to life provocative and useful concept proposals from available technical and societal research. Based on initial feedback, we believe that in e-Bee we have an excellent tool for customer engagement and for representing Visteon’s automotive intellect.

While innovation is not a rigid process for Visteon, we have found some recurring themes in the subject.

For example, the key challenge in concept creation is not in producing the object itself but in understanding the associated factors: What is the purpose of the concept? Why is it appropriate? Why has it not been done before?

It is also important to look at the background story and to “connect the dots” to build a clearer picture. In conceptualizing e-Bee, we were struck by the irony of the apparent historical shift of the status of the car from social enabler (a means to visit friends) to something that actually limited social interaction compared with the rest of the modern user’s life (the ‘always connected’ lifestyle of phone, text and email being curtailed during the driving process). Of course, for safety reasons this is quite proper – but it tells us something about the essential nature of the rate of change of technology versus personal mobility.

Another tactic we find useful in in the innovation process is to estimate the logical “end game” of any path we are considering – and then to interpolate logical intervening steps. For instance, let’s say that the ultimate aim of a complex user-operated system is a “zero learning curve” – essentially to put its user manual directly into your brain (for want of a better phrase). From this we recognise the first step – more intuitive systems that reduce reliance on written instructions. But let’s take it a step further. How about a system that bases its behaviour on your personality, so that you realise that you already know how to operate it (and how it will behave) as soon as you start? In our e-Bee concept, the Cloud-based persona profiles of the HMI tools are a small nod in this direction – and a starting point for further discussion and exploration.

The e-Bee concept is loaded with innovative features and controls. Yet, the object itself is less important than the message it sends about our approach to innovation. More than anything, innovation is a mindset; it is not what you do, but the way you do it. We will keep cultivating and communicating that mindset as long as our customers continue to value the output.

Simon Harris is a chief designer for Visteon’s global innovation and design team located in Chelmsford, United Kingdom. He has been instrumental in the development of the e-Bee vehicle concept, applying his 15 years of automotive industrial design experience.