Cars, Coffee and Customer-Centered Research

ArtCenter College of Design, with Wending Li and Anshul Malhan.

Southern California has a storied relationship with cars. Driving is more than a reflexive task that can be automated- it has a deep cultural meaning that will profoundly affect people, cars and cities for some time. 

Cars represented individuality and independence through eras of growing automation.

Though the prospect of automata seems new, the mechanization of time and industry in the 20th century presented the same societal and cultural challenges. 

Cars represented fashion and fantasy in times of prosperity.

When times were good, imaginations ran wild with dreams of air and space travel.

Cars became extensions of the home and self.

Cars reflected their owners' personalities, but moreso became a part of their drivers' proprioceptive and personal space.

Cars respond to economic and cultural shifts.

Every car says something about where and when it was made. The oil crises and the great recession each left temporary but indelible marks on the progress of automobility.

As part of a customer-centered research class, we paid weekly visits to Aliso Viejo's Cars & Coffee meet. A descendant of the storied Irvine event, local collectors bring their cars to the Aliso Town Center parking lot from 7-9 AM, early Saturday mornings each week. Every week we interviewed a few of the owners there, to see what they thought of their cars, their colleagues and their culture. 

Using an affinity diagram (pictured above,) we organized our impressions, reactions, quotes and connections from these conversations to see what trends and relationships emerged, with the goal of creating an impactful design brief.