Design thinking has become deeply embedded in strategy over the past decade but new challenges are now emerging, not least how to design for a new autonomous generation of devices, interfaces and even vehicles.
Anna Haupt is an expert in combining safety and fashion and is now working for NEVS, the autonomous car company. Hack and Craft caught up with her to talk about this new world where design has to make humans comfortable and safe in advanced environments like self-driving cars.
Anna Haupt is an industrial designer best known for co-inventing the Hövding airbag for cyclists. The airbag is a scarf-like collar as well as a functional safety device and is marketed as a fashion accessory. With partner Terese Altstrin Anna also raised VC finance and grew a company around the device and developed branding strategy. She is now leading user-oriented design at autonomous car maker Nevs.
You are best known for inventing the Hövding airbag. Can you tell us some of the major lessons you learned from the experience of becoming an inventor and specifically from mixing style with safety equipment?
My journey with Hövding changed me as a person. I’ve learned that so much more is possible than what the majority of people might think is possible. I’ve learned how to approach challenges and how to deal with them efficiently together with others.
I’ve learned that in order to make innovation, you need to trust your gut feeling and be an optimist. You need to believe in the impossible, but you also need to be able to convince others around you to believe too. Otherwise you will not succeed. Change don’t come easy nor quick nor by you yourself alone. You need a fierce team behind you.
I’ve also learned more practical things, like how to certify a safety product that has no applicable standard to it, how to raise venture capital to an idea without a technical solution yet in place, how to build a brand and a company culture that believe in changing the world.
Combining safety and fashion, to me, was not something strange, but rather a necessity. It was a prerequisite in order to make cyclists want to start using helmets, and therefore it was a prerequisite in the product development. A few investors thought fashion and safety was a strange combination , but most people could see the logic behind and the advantages with a helmet that was not only taking care of the safety aspects but also the vanity. After all, it was vanity that was the main reason for people not to use bicycle helmets. Me included. As a product developer you should never ridicule the driving forces of a user, but instead always listen to them.
The Hövding clearly marks out a new departure in how a company should view a customer – helping them to fulfill their needs but also feeling good about it. Would you agree?
Yes. I agree.
In your time at Hövding were you able to develop or apply a “design thinking method” that you would recommend to others, as in what steps you take to solve a problem?
Having a background as designers, both me and my cofounder Terese Alstin, wanted to build the whole company around the design department, having it acting as a hub in the middle of the other departments.
This proved to be very efficient in both product development as well as for the branding, marketing and sales of the products. The results from the Design Process defined our Product Plan as well as requirement specifications for the whole product. This way of working is very unusual in business, but it’s my absolute belief that having a designer leading companies is something we will see more and more often. We are the bridge between customer, engineers, brand and marketing. We are generalists, who have to know a little bit about everything in order to define the best products for the future.
Designers are taught to see patterns in society and from these patterns to see and define future needs, needs that are not yet here but will arise. For me it’s very important to work with products that have a need to fulfil.
At Hövding we started out by defining the need, making research and asking cyclists why they didn’t use helmets. This was the foundation in our brainstorming phase. OK, so people don’t want helmet hair – how do we solve it? In the development of the algorithm, I worked very closely with the mathematicians – in order to have an algorithm (for anticipating accidents) in the end that was taking real life situations and bicyclist life patterns into account.
In the development of the airbag I wanted to shape it as a hood, with the field of vision free also throughout the accident. Not because it’s very important to see if you’re hit by a car, but because I don’t believe you call sell a product to cyclists where your visual control is lost in and after an accident.
Again as designer it’s about putting yourself into the shoes of the user, in every step of the development.
When developing the final collar, including user interface, the design team worked closely with pattern makers and software engineers. Hövding 1.0 as well as 2.0 can be even more user adapted. The final result was the best we could do with 15 engineers and a very tight budget. It was the first ever airbag helmet. Of course it can be even more fierce. If they would continue having the designer in the middle of the company.
When building a new company the branding and the building up of a new company culture it’s also very important. You need to be consistent and keep a defined line, not only in product development but also throughout all marketing. It must be very clear to everyone that product and branding speaks the same language in quality and design.
Me and Terese being involved in all processes and being the ones defining them, made it possible for Hövding to have this very consistent line. We showed people that this company was genuine and real.
Our driving force was not to earn money, it was to make products people wanted. This was what made Hövding so likeable globally with no marketing budget whatsoever. We got so much love from our customers. Real love, and support. People bought the product because of us.
Today people want real people, they want to support companies with real people behind, not buy products from companies who just want black numbers.
What will your new role at NEVS be?
My new role is being responsible for the development of autonomous drive at NEVS, former SAAB.
How does this experience of Hövding fit you out for that role?
Haha, to get the best answer to why NEVS hired me for this task, you would need to ask my new boss! But my guess is, both Hövding and autonomous vehicles are about changing an existing industry through more user-oriented and user-adapted products with advanced technology. Second, if I simplify it, both product categories are dealing with movement patterns and safety.
The competition for NEVS is going to be huge – it already is with some of the world’s leading tech and auto companies involved. What do you bring that can help differentiate NEVS?
To me, NEVS has the best prerequisites to be a leading player in future car competition. And that is why I chose to contact them and not someone else.
The heritage from SAAB gives them the essential foundation in competence and quality. The Chinese owners gives them access to the biggest, most interesting and fastest growing market in the world. Their vision is about making sustainable, environmental friendly products only.
They are small compared to competitors – which means rapidity in change. They don’t have to focus on any existing products driving around on the market, because they don’t have any. They are like a start-up, but bigger and with a history.
The fact that their development is in Sweden, one of the most gender equal countries in the world, gives them a unique possibility to include the whole population both in staffing but also in their work in targeting the products.
Traditionally, the car industry is very male dominated on all levels. A mix between men and women is a necessity to become the biggest player in the future. It’s all about understanding the user and the user needs. To be able to do that, the company needs diversity.
What I believe I’m able to accomplish here at NEVS together with my incredible co-workers, is something I don’t see I would be able to do in car companies in other countries in the world. NEVS and I will crush the competitors because we know how to include the whole population in our innovations. It’s an open goal.
What then are the key success factors going to be for autonomous cars from a consumer design perspective?
As I already mentioned, it’s about understanding the user. If you know your target group, what they need and what they will demand in the future, you know what products to develop. Technology obstacles are just something you have to overcome on your way towards the perfectly adapted user experience. How I see that to be done more exactly is something I won’t be telling a journalist, obviously.
Do you have any advice from people seeking to convince VCs to back a product that in effect creates a new category?
My most important advice is, trust your own inner conviction. In a research phase, you make questionnaires etc, but when leaving the research phase and going into brainstorming and realisation it is highly important you start listening to yourself. Otherwise you will end up with a product that is a compromise between your own belief and others, which always become a product without surprise and personality. As a founder you are selling yourself – and that needs to be shown and clear for the company to appear genuine. Never ask other people how to define your brand. The brand is you.
Believe in yourself. Then others can believe too. You will never, nor should you, try to reach or satisfy everyone. Go for your instinct and show clearly who you are and what you stand for. Then your customers will find you.
More generally, this is the age of user experience design. Who are the designers or companies you draw on for inspiration or you would say are leaders worth following, and why?
In order to lead consumer product development you should for sure be aware of the existing market and what’s out there. But the inspiration for new innovation is not possible to find in existing markets. If that was the case, you would become a follower. I find my inspiration in nature and when observing people from a coffee table in the city. I find inspiration in reading a good book, listening to music or going to see a play. Culture is where avant garde is happening.
Can you elaborate on what that inspiration is? It is hard to see a link between the Swedish countryside and an airbag, so how do you make those links?
It may sound far away from each other. But it really isn’t. Every day you meet situations that gives you a lot of impressions. The impressions are the patterns you then need to analyze in order to be able to predict the future. But in order to analyze your impressions you need a quiet and calm place that offers neutral input. You know when you’re on holiday for instance, you can wake up one morning and you just know the solution to that big problem you’ve had for weeks. All you needed was perspective and change of environment.
Is there any product other than Hövding that has particularly inspired you?
First, Hövding didn’t inspire me, Hövding is a part of me. But to answer your question, if I am to pick one source of inspiration, there is a Swedish author, Liv Strömquist, her books inspire me. Unfortunately, I don’t think her work is translated into English, yet. If you want to see some inspirational nature, go see Lapporten in Abisko, Northern Sweden.
Any thoughts yet on where your focus will be?
My focus will be – as always – on the lovely future! 😉