Have you ever noticed that most concepts for self-driving cars look the same? There’s the curved exterior that’s supposed to look futuristic. The four inward-facing seats. The interiors that look like a cross between a living room and a first-class airplane seat. The London-based design firm Ustwo is trying to think outside that four-wheeled box–and it recently asked artists and illustrators to help.
Ustwo is best known for its mobile game Monument Valley and its Android smart watch interface, but in 2014 the studio started a division focused entirely on car design. Dubbed Ustwo Auto, the group of 50 or so designers is already working with car companies like Ford, Nissan, and Jaguar-Land Rover. This week, it released a new book on its extensive research into one of the biggest topics facing car designers today: autonomous vehicles. Titled Humanising Autonomy: Where Are We Going?, the book is a glimpse at how Ustwo is approaching self-driving cars using 24 design principles distilled from extensive user research. The book is free and open-source, and the firm hopes that designers and carmakers will use it as resource. It also positions Ustwo as experts in the field–and it will likely inform the work Ustwo is already doing with car companies.
To accompany the book’s hundreds of pages of user research, design principles, and concepts, Ustwo commissioned 20 artists to imagine their perfect autonomous car. The collection of images, scattered throughout the book, represent a delightful variety of ways that people imagine self-driving cars changing their lives and how they get around town. Their drawings represent a fanciful exercise that might be just as useful as in-depth UX research.
“The industry is ripe for change and designers should not be held back by norms informed by outdated legacy technologies such as the internal combustion engine and the controls used to manually drive the car,” says Tim Smith, the auto design principal at Ustwo. “Cars can now be almost anything on wheels!”
The results are a whimsical kaleidoscope of ideas. The artist Aart-Jan Venema drew six different possibilities, including a “high tea car” for sipping and scones, a privacy car for canoodling, and a hot tub car with the delightful caption, “Why not?” Alex Mathers drew an aquarium on wheels. Other artists drew religious spaces, stores, yoga studios, reading nooks, and even bedrooms, all within the confines of their dream vehicles. The artist Muxxi imagined a car as an anthropomorphized cloud on which an adorable bunny character watches TV, with a charging station, cactus plant, and a hot cup of steaming coffee sitting next to her.
“Imagine you can drive without worries,” writes Muxxi in the book. “Reading your favourite book, watching your favourite TV show or just texting some friends while you get to your destination. That’s how I imagine a driverless car. Some comfy place where you enjoy your time and forget about the stress of being stuck in traffic. A very soft and light cloud who takes care of you and our planet.”
The artists’ visions for what autonomous vehicles could be for users are a joyful reminder of just how wide open the design of these cars remains. After all, who wouldn’t want to curl up in a personal entertainment center-on-wheels–or float home on a cloud?