Ford is proud of the new Fiesta. It's been Europe's best selling car, pretty much every month since its launch. And having spent much of last weekend driving one, and clobbered through the 400 mile Newcastle to London journey in one, in one go - it's easy to see what all the hype is about. The car is good. It looks relatively fast, even when it's stood still. It drives like any contemporary European Ford (which is to say, extremely well), and Ford considers it good enough to be going on sale in the US next year. It's even full of so-called big car features - keyless entry, leather uphulstery, ipod integration - that sort of thing.
But back to that word 'hype'. Part of Ford's aggressive push around the new Fiesta has been to talk about the importance of utilising persona-based design techniques. A design persona is a completely fictional character, created by the marketing and design departments, to which everyone involved in the development of the car can refer. The persona 'personifies' many of the lifestyle attributes that the car's target customer would have. They behave, have the same types of job, same types of friends and like doing the same types of things that the real world customer will do. And in the case of the Fiesta, the persona's name is Antonella.
However, while Ford has been keen to play up the importance of design personae in its current processes, and especially the one behind the Fiesta, many others - including ourselves, are sceptical about their usefulness. As Ben Kraal suggested, in response to the New York Times piece on this subject:
"Antonella cares more about the design and function of her telephone than that of her car. Her priorities in the Fiesta are visible in the car’s central panel, where controls inspired by those of a cellphone operate the audio and air-conditioning systems. Designers working on the Fiesta referred to the shape framing the dashboard instruments as “Antonella’s glasses.”"
We don't suggest this is conclusive, nor is it particularly scientific, but this five minute video features eight young professional 25-35 year olds who live and work in London - all of whom are target market customers for the Fiesta. Specifically, we've edited this video around their views on that interior design, inspired by Antonella's phone keypad and sun glasses:
If you haven't watched the video above, then this is your 'spoiler alert' warning. The views we got were quite interesting. Specifically, boys, rather than girls, seem much more won over by the car's centre console design. And judging by our research, the women we spoke to are looking for something in a car's interior that is much more sophisticated and classy than the keypad of Antonella's (presumably now three year old) mobile phone.
Does this illustrate the pitfalls in using design personae, such as Antonella? Partially, yes. While it is easy to see the usefulness of one dreamt-up character around which everyone on the project can focus; a made up character who can't answer back is very different from real people, in the real world who have real lives. Understanding what those people want from their car, asking them the right questions, and then being able to filter the information they provide and turn it into something that they never dreamt was possible, is to me the definition of the role of a good designer.
As one of the people in the video later said, the problem with the Fiesta's interior, is that it feels like something that "was designed by a bunch of male designers, who think they know what women want in the interior of a car", and that "in three years times, it will look terribly dated". Which is a shame, because otherwise the Ford Fiesta is an (externally) good looking, grown up, but still very fun to drive small car.
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 26th Auguest 2009
Disclosure: Ford is sponsoing The Movement Design Bureau's design and research work in 2009, and the Ford Fiesta was lent to us by Ford UK's press department free of charge. We have an independent brief, and are free to say what we want. If you don't think that's the case, we want to hear from you.