The road ahead

Helping Ford change the way the world moves.


  • Client
  • Industry
  • Services
    Design Research, Experience Design, Design Engineering, Business Design

The challenge.

It’s 2014. Ford is at a turning point. Cities are growing more congested. The cache of car ownership isn’t what it once was. Many urban young people are driving less and sharing more. Innovative services like Zipcar and Uber are making it easier than ever for people to move from point A to B.

In support of Ford’s global experiments to explore the future of mobility, Smart Design worked with Ford to gather extensive consumer insight to conceive and shape both the physical and technical attributes of an on-demand dynamic shuttle service at the inception phase of the project.

The project focused on three key questions:

  • What is the business opportunity for a global automotive company like Ford to become a leader in new on-demand transportation services that fill the gaps between public and private transportation offerings?
  • What are the behavioral insights which enable shared transportation – and how do you frame such services to be desirable to both passengers and drivers?
  • How can Ford leverage its product heritage to create purpose-built premium shuttles that are fully integrated with the digital service elements of managing passengers and routing navigation, while creating a comfortable and desirable experience for commuters?

The solution.

The vision for the Ford Dynamic Shuttle project was to bend to the needs of people, instead of the transportation systems that carry them. Instead of requiring users to follow set routes and schedules, urban commuters could request trips on-demand through a smartphone app. A purpose-built Ford Transit van dynamically routed these riders to pick up and drop off multiple passengers across a network of virtual stops.

The challenge of a project like this is not just technical, but one of human behavior. How can we motivate people to shift their current routine? What should we leverage from people’s current expectations of buses and taxis? How can we flip the perception of sharing a ride so that it seems a benefit not a compromise? Solving these questions unlocked the possibilities of a new mobility service.

Nate Giraitis
Smart Strategy Director

Rapid prototyping: The way forward

The Dynamic Shuttle project was a great example of the benefits of iterative design and development. The Smart team developed the shuttle service prototype in two “sprints.” In the first sprint, we realized we were providing too many passenger options. The second sprint gave us the chance to simplify the decision-making process.

“This effort is really about creating a service that makes people feel comfortable sharing space with a small number of strangers,” said Heather Martin, Smart VP of Design. “One of the important things we learned is about getting the right amount of personal space. What people feel comfortable with varies from city to city – and this has to be balanced with the impact on the cost of the service.”

A wild ride.

Ford worked with Smart Design’s team to envisage a compelling service experience and evaluate its viability. Research teams surveyed people in various cities around the world to understand how consumer attitudes and needs vary from region to region. In the United States and United Kingdom, this included conducting research in different-sized cities – Atlanta, New York, Edinburgh and London. They also took into account growing national economies to explore its full potential, studying Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil, along with Chennai and Mumbai in India.

This was a highly collaborative project, and a perfect one
 to leverage Smart’s ability to think through an entire ecosystem—the physical design of a customized vehicle, the digital and shared touchpoints for both riders and drivers, as well as the design of the business itself.

Heather Martin
Smart VP Design

Martin adds, “The ability to create a purpose-built vehicle customized for shared transportation, which is seamlessly integrated with a digital service which creates custom routes for people heading in the same direction, is something only a company like Ford can do.”

The project was one of more than 25 experiments launched by Ford to address the world’s growing transportation needs, which then progressed to piloting an on-demand ride sharing service for employees around its Dearborn, Michigan campus. The vision came to life with the launch of Chariot in London, helping to fill transportation gaps between several rapidly growing neighborhoods and transport hubs.

Learn more about Ford’s Smart Mobility projects.