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Influx interview- mike simonian-mike and maaike

July 16, 2009

A new weeks back, Mike and Maaike (designers of the first Google phone) received a lot attention for their atnmbl project that showed us all how to re-think car design.

I recently caught up with Mike Simonian and asked him a few questions.

Here’s the interview.

Can you briefly describe your company’s background?

In 2005, we started our design studio Mike and Maaike to experiment on subjects that we find challenging, surprising and useful. By using experimentation as a collaborative work process we strive to develop strong conceptual foundations and therefore do not attempt to arrive at preconceived and static goals.  We mix our diverse high-tech and low-tech design backgrounds to create progressive ideas and unexpected solutions for products, furniture, wearables, environments, and vehicles.
 
 How did the car project come about?

We always wanted to design a car – it just never felt right.  The current state of the auto industry made us feel that something had to be done.  While there is a lot of discussion about new propulsion technologies for cars, we felt the conversation about the future of cars should be much broader, not just what’s under the hood.

Have you seen “Who Killed the Electric Car” and was that an inspiration?
 
We did see it and it definitely added fuel to the fire.  The movie asked a lot of simple but important questions.  The main thing we took away from the film is that the auto industry actually dictates people’s expectations when it should be the other way around.

What are the possible next steps for atnmbl?

Our goal for the project is to provoke new conversations about cars that will eventually lead to a new way of thinking about/ designing cars to solve real problems; to encourage a shift from styling cars to redefining them.  The project has already had this effect, from some of the debates we have read about it.  As far as creating a working ATNMBL, one scenario would be to secure funding to create a working prototype. This would be great but is unlikely because it would be a very long-term investment.  More likely, we will take some of the ideas that went into the project and work within the emerging new car industry to design near-term vehicles with this new approach.

How much freedom does a designer have to break conventionally rules when it comes to commercial projects?
 
Its a designer’s job to break conventions to arrive at new solutions that are meaningful.  The best commercial projects encourage this.

How much value do you place on user research?

User research is a great way to get a first-hand understanding about the problems/ challenges.  We place a lot of value on identifying problems/ opportunities through research.  Where research becomes less useful is when you test designs to predict their success or ask people what they want.  As Henry Ford said “If I had asked people what they want, they would have said faster horses”

What categories, beyond cars, would you like explore?

Robots are particularly interesting for us because so far, the implementations of robots have been very narrow-minded.  Interior spaces and architecture are also of great interest because they are so immersive in scale.  Other forms of transportation  are also very interesting.  
 

Posted by Ed Cotton

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