Embedded Culture

Marketers, engineers, and designers are people too, and they are as much a product of their environment as the next guy.  Their daily life experiences inform their way of thinking, which in turn shapes their professional output.  The culture in which a product is developed becomes embedded in that product. 

Fiat is a good case in point.  Throughout its history, Fiat has been able to make fantastic, tiny cars, like the 500 Nuovo (whose design was cribbed in part from competitor Iso, which eventually became a BMW, but that’s another story).  Its success in doing so stems from multiple factors, from the political landscape (tax laws based on engine displacement), to the state of the market market (expensive gas, relatively low per capita earnings), and culture (how and where do live and what do we value).  In terms of automotive design, I  find the cultural one to be the most influential:  if you live in a city with small streets and limited parking, you’ll naturally develop spidey-senses that guide you toward tight, elegant, low-mass vehicular solutions.  If, on the other hand, you dwell in the flat and open expanses of middle America, well, you’re going to have a hankering for lead sleds that can burn across Oklahoma all day long without jostling unbelted, DVD-watching kids lounging in the back three rows of seats.

In other words, it’s no wonder why the automotive marques who built their reputations for superior handling and braking all hailed from within shouting distance of the Alps and the kinds of switchbacky roads that make tires and grown men scream.

So, when putting together project teams, try and staff them with people who “know” from experience.  They’ll be able to put that experience into the end product, resulting in a better experience for users.

All of this is a long way of saying that I’m thrilled to death by Fiat’s new Trepiùno concept car.  It recalls the old 500 while being new, and it’s a fresh, compelling package for a small car.  While I’m not positive that it was penned by a native of Turin, whoever did it really gets what a Fiat is.  Let’s hope they can get it to market.