16 August 2010

Personal Emotional Mobility

Car Designer
On my trip to Melbourne I arrived on the Monday and was scheduled to give my talk on the Saturday. Felix and I were picked up at the airport, together with another chap who was also speaking at the State of Design Festival.

A car designer. Former head of design for BMW. His name is Chris Bangle. Charming and personable with great humour.

He gave his talk on the Tuesday at the BMW Edge venue at Federation Square. I was looking forward to hearing about car design - all design is interesting to me - and it was going to be interesting to hear how the automobile industry and its designers are tackling the needs and moods of this new century.

According to the State of Design programme's text about Bangle we would hear all about how:
"We are becoming more aware of ‘personal mobility’, the choice we make for moving around. However, Bangle perceives the need to consider ‘personal emotional mobility’ if we are to seriously tackle behaviour change and develop more sustainable mobility products. People have developed ‘emotional’ attachments to their modes of transport, so if we want change we need to provide new experiences that act equally as a catalyst for emotional connection and sustainable outcomes."

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Sustainability and the environment were hardly mentioned.

What I did learn was this funky and fresh new catchphrase created by Bangle to describe the evolution of designing cars: Personal Emotional Mobility.

Wicked! Sounds lovely and hip and modern and this was the phrase around which Bangle's talk revolved. What does it mean? Well, um... it turns out it means that the car industry needs to rethink their design so that people can have a heightened emotional attachment to their cars. It's a catchphrase to describe the goal of getting people to buy more cars.

Bangle said one thing that stood out, bold black on white. He said that the number of 16-18 year olds in the US who aren't bothering getting their driving licences is growing fast. Cars register less on their radar. Then Bangle said it:

"We have to hook them back to the car."

That's what he said. Sitting in the audience it was remarkable to see how many people turned their heads to the person next to them with quizzical looks on their faces. Silently asking each other; "Did he just say that? Really?"

Here on Copenhagenize.com we highlight the numerous examples of the car industry backing itself into a corner and angling their advertising to attack the growing armada of Citzen Cyclists in an attempt to maintain their market share, as well as promoting bike helmets to scare people off of bikes. It was refreshing and depressing to hear those nine words.

Felix was busy with his Nintendo during the talk - fair enough when you're eight - but he did look up at one point and whisper to me, "Daddy... isn't it funny that he's talking about cars and you're here to talk about bicycles?" Well spotted, my boy.

In the car from the airport, just after we had met, Bangle and I discussed various aspects of our respective fields. Bangle asked me two questions in the course of the conversation. Did I think that bikes should be registered like cars. I said no, as I've written on this blog. He asked an interesting question about whether bikes are the top-end of pedestrian traffic or the bottom-end of car traffic. I replied that bikes were the top-end of pedestrian traffic. Cyclists move faster than pedestrians but are capable of pedestrian-like movement and spontenaity.

During his talk he referred to our conversation and added a bit of bike-bashing for good measure. He mentioned the top-end/bottom-end question and suggested that cyclists want to be both. Delivered with a crooked smile and roll of the eyes expression on his face. He also chucked out the line that "somebody has to pay for the roads". Something that the good people at the I Pay Road Tax website/org would have a field day with.

I approached him after the talk - we all went to the same restaurant - and mentioned this myth about 'paying for roads'. "Oh, I know..." was the reply. So he knew... but still chucked out the line to the audience.

At the restaurant that evening Felix made himself famous in Melbourne. He was drawing at the table, on yellow post it notes. He asked me how to spell 'bicycle' and I helped him, not knowing what he had planned. He tip-toed over to Chris and put a post-it note on his back. He had written, simply:

I ♥ Bicycles.

Chris took it with a laugh but a whole bunch of the people at the table fired off text messages about this innocent but effective eight year-old bicycle advocacy activism.
Elegant Transport
So. What is Personal Emotional Mobility? The car industry would love you to mutter "oooh, baby" as your hands caress the carefully chosen material on your steering wheel and "Oh yeah..." as you look down the elegant slope of your hood. They want to trigger emotional reactions in people. All while those people are incarcerated inside their vehicles - completely and utterly cut off from the society in which they live. Isolated and alienated.

It's no secret that the car industry has borrowed freely from the bicycle industry throughout the past century. No Henry Ford without Alexander Pope. No selling their products gorgeously without the massive success of early bicycle marketing. Et cetera.

So here's what I'm doing. I'm plucking this catchphrase of Personal Emotional Mobility from the clutches of the car industry and planting it firmly in the blossoming garden of urban cycling.

Because you know what the great thing about Personal Emotional Mobility is? It describes perfectly what the bicycle can offer the person who rides it. It is a brilliant description of what I, personally, get out of riding a bicycle in cities.

My personal and emotional attachment with the cityscape, as well as with my fellow citizens whether on bicycles or on foot, is intensified, heightened.

I interact with my urban landscape as I roll down the cycle tracks or streets of my own, or any other city. The bicycle is independent mobility and on it I am an integral, active and visible element in the city. Offering yet another human thread that strengthens the societal fabric.

Thank you, Bangle. Thank you BMW. Your desperate attempt to sell cars has given me the perfect phrase with which to describe the beauty of the bicycle in cities.
So This Century
And you know what? We're changing the world for the second time around with our two and three-wheeled machines. Citius, altius, fortius.

Roll on.


Klaus Mohn said...

Excellent. I respect him as a (ballsy) designer, but still thank you for calling out his dishonesty when it comes to sustainable mobility for the future. If only people paid attention to politicians and the car industry when they publish lies like that, instead of letting personal comfort and car dependency dampen their cognitive dissonance.

Kim said...

We need to challenge the idea promoted by the motor industry that road are there solely for cars which is clearly untrue as roads where around for over 5,000 years before the car was invented. Roads are for people, we all have an equal right to use them however we choose to travel.

Anonymous said...

Great summary Mikael. More than a few people here in Melbourne share your disappointment in Bangle's Personal Emotional Mobility shite. Your talk on the Saturday was a needed return to sanity!! thanks.

Bristol Traffic said...

We in Bristol Traffic are particularly concerned about the attempt by cyclists to steal the notion that a normal male's mid-life crisis should be addressed by a road bike rather than a two-seater sports car or a motorbike. We can imagine BMW being concerned by such issues too.

Interestingly enough, despite our view of cyclists and pedestrians as the tax avoiding enemy we ourselves were forced to file a complaint about a BMW advert; our concern was that whoever implied that GPS would get you out of trouble didn't know how GPS worked. Sadly, the UK Advertising Authority dismissed our complaint as apparently its unreliability is something people should be expected to know.

themightyjim said...

Wonderful post. The car is definately Personal Emotionally Stunted Mobility.

Prentiss said...

I have a much more emotional attachment to my bike than I do my car! I also own more bicycles than cars.

BG said...

Nice! (But weren't you the guy saying "cycling isn't fun" a couple months ago? No emotional mobility w/r/t vacuum cleaners? Anyway...)

But I'm confused: "No Henry Ford without Alexander Pope"? Pope died in 1744, no? Whatever is, is right, but I'm pretty sure he had nothing to do with the bicycle.

Brent said...

@BG: I always find the Popes confusing, was it John Paul I or John Paul II, Alexander or Albert Augustus? All too complicated...


Herzog said...

Say what you will, but Chris Bangle is a brilliant designer that knows how to design cars that will charm and sell!

Krakonos said...

Great article, which reminds me of a small argumentative contradiction in some of your previous posts. Do you think bicycles should be just cheap tools or should we develop emotional ties to them (Which I feel you also have), which would require the bikes to be well designed and built and therefore not cheap?
While price is a big factor in the success of the car the fascination of many people with expensive stylish cars is just as much. And I think this is also true for bicycles. Maybe you should adjust your argument there a bit.

Erik Sandblom said...

BG & Krakonos, maybe Mikael has an emotional tie to his vacuum cleaner ;-)

Seriously though, can't both be true at the same time? It's not about the bicycle, it's about bicycling. The emotional tie is about experiencing the city and being a part of your surroundings, as a normal part of your daily routine. It's about not being cooped up alone in a box.

Anonymous said...

Great post...i love my bike too! Congratulations to Felix! jaja...it's semms he is a very intelligent boy. Greetings from Argentina. Vero.

Robert P said...

Have you considered copyrighting the phrase? Because I suspect if you don't, someone else will, and then the act of reclamation will appear in the eyes of the courts to be an act of theft.

Just something to think about! :D

*runs to register personalemotionalmobility.com*

Anonymous said...

Great article !
Greetings from Latvia

Anonymous said...

To harp on a slightly different note: Bicycles are NOT the top end of pedestrian traffic. They are NOT the bottom end of automobile traffic. What they are is the full spectrum of BICYCLE traffic. Many of our problems with legality and planning stem from this inability to recognize that they are in their own class, and should be respected as such. Val

Frits B said...

@Herzog: Chris Bangle is responsible for the ugly bulge on the backside of BMW cars, as well as the remarkably ugly 1 series. So glad he's gone.

@Val: Totally agree. And as bikes are in their own class they deserve their own set of roads - thus spake a Dutchman.

Mikael said...

To answer the question of me contradicting myself...

The bicycle is a tool. It shouldn't be sold as 'fun' in order to get people to ride.

That's what I've said before.

What I'm saying here is that the bicycle (new or rusty, expensive or cheap) gives me, the citizen Personal Emotional Mobility. I don't say that I have an emotional attachment, per se, to my bicycle, but that the iron horse gives me PEM with my city.

Anonymous said...

If we were sane and actually not so courageous we would try this guy for crimes against humanity.

The automobile industry is a military industry, just one step removed. (If they pledged to downsize by a factor of 10 and only make carshare or rural vehicles, things would be different). Private automobilization needs resources, and lots of them, and this helps dictate foreign policy. NATO = Never-ending Automobile Takeover Organization... the current head of NATO is Danish.

But justice-providers in The Hague do not seem interested in this case, so we will be stuck with sticking "Not Copenhagenizing" stickers to the rear bumpers of all the private electric automobiles coming soon to Denmark and its capital.

kfg said...

"People have developed ‘emotional’ attachments to their modes of transport"

There's nothing new there. That shit started with the horse thousands of years ago, the difference being that the horse could be reciprocally attached, creating an actual emotional relationship.

". . .if we want change we need to provide new experiences that act equally as a catalyst for emotional connection and sustainable outcomes."

In other words, the car is an essentially mature technology with the bloom gone off the rose and we're losing mind share, so we have nowhere to go but marketing.

"Sustainability and the environment were hardly mentioned."

My first interest is in the sustainability of the urban environment. The shared spaces where we live as groups. The problem in these spaces is that the CAR as we know it IS the problem. If they were made from, and ran on, pure green fairy dust and believing that wouldn't do anything to fix the problems presented by the CAR, which are innate in its size, mass, speed and independence of motion; dependent on the skills and concentration of an operator to keep under control for every fraction of a second.

Cars require special treatment in the environment of physical plant, law and social interaction; all of which they tend to gobble up and degrade. While a useful and even fun tool for the individual human, looked at in the short term, they are unfit for human inhabited spaces and eventually consume the life (or even take the life) of their owners; without giving anything back in the long term to make them worthwhile in any practical terms.

In other words, as Bangle has just tacitly admitted, they are, for the most part, toys dependent on high emotional appeal, but with little value.

Herzog said...

@Frits B:

I'm quite familiar with his work. :)

Beauty/ugliness is only one dimension of a cars appearance. Equally important is freshness, attitude, emotion, etc. Bangle kept BMWs fresh and exciting and was instrumental in moving the brand into the 21st century. For the record, the notoriously "ugly" 7 series with the weird butt outsold all the previous iterations by a large margin.

Krakonos said...

"The bicycle is a tool. It shouldn't be sold as 'fun' in order to get people to ride."
But that's what I'm actually questioning. In order to get people to cycle we should try to bring up everything that helps. And emotional ties to the mode of transportation have been proven to work with cars so we shouldn't completely ignore it when talking about bicycles. And while I compeltely agree that cycling is about convenience - and it clearly is the most convenient mode of transport for me - I also have empotional ties to my biky which I build up myself from parts, some of them I've probalbly used now for more than 50000km. I mean some people even develop emotional ties to their cell phone!

K said...

Hi Mikael, I have to disagree on this point:
"I replied that bikes were the top-end of pedestrian traffic. Cyclists move faster than pedestrians but are capable of pedestrian-like movement and spontenaity."

Bicycles are not capable of pedestrian like movement such as rapid stop/start, sideways movements. As you probably appreciate, frequent stopping and starting when riding a bike is very hard work but no trouble when working. This is down to the simple physics and wonderful efficiency of the bicycle at cruising speed. This fact is annoyingly highlighted in the UK where cycle routes are often inappropriately tagged onto existing pavements routes making for an awkward, tiring and in many cases less safe cycle ride.

Green Idea Factory said...

There are good reasons that all forms of transportation should be promoted in relation to "PEM", but emotion is indeed personal, so then if every mode (from using a fast, over-powered, hard personal private car to A-to-Bism-based cycling to homeworking with solar or wind-powered internet) it starts to loose cohesion with reality (not just, e.g. time efficiency or eco-efficiency... the latter is less interesting for most) but the... emotions of OTHERS.

In other words, to re-phrase a popular and useful Anarchist philosophy, you can satisfy your emotions just as long as it does not emotionally hurt anyone else.

This hopefully goes some way to prove why the BMW mobility model is emotionally bankrupt. It should also serve as a warning about borrowing their neutral-sounding marketing or design philosophy.

"Copenhagenizing" is wonderful and original (and trademarked), but needs to be defended (as Anonymous mentions above via e.g. warnings on "green cars") and - in my humble opinion - inclusive as the spirit of cycling itself by defining the pre-separated infrastructure, high bike mode share days of the Danish capital just as Copenhagenizing as the current stuff.

So, let's continue to make our own new language for great stuff which helps its participants whilst not hurting non-participants.

ndru said...

Car design can be art, and it's really not the car itself that is the problem. Cars are useful and have their place, just as any other form of transport. The problem is people and their inability to choose the right mode of transport for the occasion - you don't take a kayak to go shopping, so you shouldn't take a car to complete a 1 mile journey in a car packed city.
I am not against emotional attachment to cars, because people can be emotionally attached to a couple of modes of transport. Let's love the car when we have to get from one city to another over a highway, let's love our bike for city trips.

Anonymous said...

This guy: http://chicksandbikes.blogspot.com/

knows what sells a bike.

In other words, a little less Lance and a lot more Niki Gudex.

ZA said...

Chris Bangle has such a sad lack of perspective.

Our urban billions are forcing a new narrative of a successful life, and as attractive as the personal car remains for people crawling out of poverty, the automobile is ultimate a vestigial organ of our urban future...more an appendix than the 'Alphaville' G-I tract of urban traffic.

The longer mature car companies avoid their future as elite toys, neighborhood shared vehicles, as taxi conveyances, and as omnibuses - the harder their fall.