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December 10, 2019

Designing a new transportation reality with ArtCenter College of Design

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Editor’s note: This semester, Waymo partnered with ArtCenter in Pasadena, California for a Sponsored Project. While ArtCenter’s Sponsored Projects have evolved over the nearly 90-year history of the college’s corporate engagement, the intention and promise remain the same: high-quality, professional experiences that bring current industry challenges and opportunities into the classroom and provide students the context for imagining future solutions. Here to share more about their experience are Joseph, a 7th term Transportation Design student, and Nancy, a 7th term Product Design student.

For the project, Waymo asked us to share our ideas on several forms of transportation, including trucks, cars, or even an entirely new form of transportation, and how people could interact with the Waymo Driver on those platforms. Through the process, the Waymo team encouraged us to think unconventionally, reminding us that we shouldn't be afraid to propose radical ideas and not to fall back on traditional methods used in car design.

We had both heard of Waymo before the project, mostly in articles covering self-driving vehicles, but it wasn’t until Waymo released their Firefly prototype that people started talking more about how driverless cars might be designed. So, when we signed up to join the project with Waymo, we were excited to see what the team was looking for from ArtCenter students, as well as curious and eager to see how our backgrounds would be valuable to them. 

ArtCenter Students at Waymo’s HQ at the beginning of the semester
Our semester began with a visit to Waymo's headquarters in Mountain View, California, where we experienced Waymo's self-driving technology and met with representatives from across the company. They each provided us with a wide variety of insights and helped us understand the different facets to consider when designing the Waymo Driver. For example, the engineers emphasized how the sensor suite should be tailored for each platform, taking into consideration their varying dimensions and characteristics. Meanwhile, the branding team wanted to maintain a consistent brand aesthetic across all platforms.

To tackle this challenge, our instructors paired us in groups of four with students from distinct majors ranging from user experience and brand strategy to transportation and product design. Working within a diverse team challenged us to collaborate toward a common goal despite coming from different disciplines, helping us tell a larger design story than we usually do in a strictly industrial design-focused project. 

ArtCenter students presenting their midterms to Waymo’s Head of Design, YJ Ahn
It was a huge learning experience to balance multiple stakeholders’ unique needs while simultaneously applying one main idea to all the individual aspects of the Waymo Driver. Each component has their own attributes but must communicate a clear, consistent message to the user.

The design of the future of transportation is wide open. While it's hard to predict how transportation will develop, we believe it will not just be about improving today’s transportation, but also about tapping into a new reality.

Nancy brainstorming ideas for her project.