Innoboard: There is no consistent definition for innovation. Every industry and every department perceive it differently. How do you define innovation as an expert in digital product strategy and user experience design in the automotive industry?
Christian Eckert: Innovation creates new products and services or improves existing ones that address customer needs and add value to the organization and brand.
As we are approaching a radically new age of mobility, only automotive companies that master innovation as a continues process represented in an agile, creative organization are going to stay relevant.
To successfully lead that change being innovative, I believe in an user-centric, holistic approach to digital product development, systematically integrating technology, business, brand and users to create great, meaningful customer experiences.
The mobility industry is in a major structural upheaval. What are the main trends that influence this change? What competences do companies need to shape this new era of mobility?
I’m extremely excited that we are transitioning into a totally new era of mobility. Science fiction is increasingly becoming science fact!
The digital revolution is going the change transportation forever and will offer endless opportunities to make mobility safer, faster, cheaper, cleaner and more personalized than ever.
Major driving forces behind this historical change are technological breakthrough innovations in the areas of:
– Autonomous driving
– Artificial intelligence and machine learning
– Internet of everything (blockchains) – and continuous connectivity.
Besides progress in technology, we see major changes in society and business leading to a new world of…
… on-demand economy
… new ownership models
… sharing economy (car-sharing, ride-sharing) … all-embracing digital lifestyles
and overall changed mobility patterns.
Realizing this future of seamless, personalized and intermodal traveling on-demand will require to build not just cars but holistic transportation ecosystems.
Automakers have to become mobility providers on top of being a product manufacturer. This is way more complex than the traditional automotive world and therefore requires massive changes of organizations, processes but also mindsets.
Thus, car companies will also become technology companies and ultimately have to deliver a great user experience to their customers in order to be successful.
So, applying user-centric and customer-focused design thinking can be fundamental to define the right product strategy and create admirable holistic experiences. This innovation process helps teams to create better solutions in less time – and if combined with a lean UX development methodology will ensure continues innovation and product improvements.
In my experience, this requires automotive companies to set up their organization collaborate in a more integrated way, I call this intelligent competence synthesis – of design, business and technology.
Lastly, you need an open, UX-focused company culture that fosters creative intelligence, supports taking risks and encourages entrepreneurial thinking.
An expert in product design and user experience in the automotive industry is not one of “traditional“ engineering positions at an automotive manufacturer. What makes your focus so valuable for the next era of mobility?
User experience has indeed not always been seen as an elemental function to automotive manufacturers in the past, and was often limited to user interface design, which represents only a small part of the overall experience.
However, being disrupted by the digital revolution, most companies now understand user experience holistically involving all customer interactions and therefore being a key differentiator in the competitive landscape and thus fundamental to success.
Consequently, many automotive corporations are introducing “Chief Experience Officers” and/or “Chief Digital Officers” being holistically responsible for the overall experience of their organization’s products and services.
Pioneering automotive user experiences for more than fifteen years, I truly believe in: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
So, our consultancy specializes in mobility experience innovation focusing on innovation strategy and advanced digital product design.
First, we work with clients and partners to create future-proof product portfolios and experience strategies for holistic mobility ecosystems.
Backed by a comprehensive 360° context research process we are able to identify and recognize new opportunities at an early stage.
Second, we offer advanced digital product design to create easy-safe-fun to use, brand specific experiences that are consistent across all platforms.
Moreover, we also support clients with transforming or setting up their organizations, processes and cultures empowering internal innovation capabilities and creative intelligence to thrive this mobility revolution. We even collaborate with leadership development coaches to help foster the required future mindsets needed for this new era – where disruption is the new default.
You worked for a traditional car manufacturer as well as for one of the most futuristic ones – Faraday Future. What are the main differences in terms of work environment, approaches and mindset?
I truly appreciate having had the opportunity to create digital product experiences not only working at an EV mobility startup and a rather traditional (still progressive) OEM, but also as an external consultant partnering with many different brands and companies worldwide.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most at FF (and also being a consultant) was the need to wear many different hats and adapt to new challenges extremely fast, as the only main constant is change. While leading and building the digital product team I had to constantly switch from functioning as a creative director, product manager, recruiting specialist, project manager to brand strategist etc.
Therefore you need to be comfortable with, and even appreciate, a certain level of uncertainty and chaos, which requires a creative, dedicated and focused mindset and a good portion of resilience. The majority of people joining such a startup share the same mentality and are very passionate about the products and the company. This creates a very motivating, inspiring and powerful culture.
People looking for more opportunities and responsibility are also going to appreciate the startup typical “just do it” approach, focusing in general more on the opportunities than on the risks, still strategically weighing both against each other.
Moreover, the startup setting allows (and requires) people to really focus on project and product challenges instead of dealing with corporate politics or too much bureaucracy.
So, starting a next-gen mobility company from scratch offers both a huge advantage but is also a massive challenge of course.
On the one hand, it obviously provides a fantastic opportunity to create new products without hindering legacy frameworks which may slow down or event prevent innovation.
Furthermore, you’re able to (and have to) not only build new products but simultaneously the organization and its processes itself. You are really building the plane while flying it. For instance, this allowed me to transform the UI/UX design department into a tech company inspired digital product team integrating UX design, software engineering, product and project management in one group. This enabled very user-focused, fast and agile cross-platform product experience development.
On the other hand, developing a car is obviously complex and creating a holistic mobility ecosystem even more so. Not all the necessary know-how fully exists right from the beginning in a new company. Therefore it’s crucial to build the proper partner network but also set clear strategic priorities and remain flexible and agile to accommodate for potential changes. Thus, being able to leverage the tremendous existing know-how to kickstart new innovations can be a huge advantage for traditional manufacturers.
Having experienced both traditional car manufacturers and also next-gen mobility startups I emphasize that these are very different worlds, and both have their advantages to succeed in this era of smart, connected mobility.
What are your goals regarding innovation for the next 12 months?
Keep pioneering this exciting new era of mobility by creating holistic digital experiences which people love to use and add value for our customers.
To achieve this, we design these products to be intelligent, easy to use and relevant.
Therefore we continue to invest in an all-inclusive 360° context research process to identify trends and inventions very early. This allows us to embrace significant strategic opportunities for our partners on all levels.
Particular emphasis will be placed on advances in virtual reality and mixed reality, machine learning, autonomous driving, technology platforms but also new business models.
Furthermore, we want to innovate by creating complementary ecosystem partnerships for future product developments. For instance, we look into new in-vehicle entertainment offerings, mobile payment integration, convenient charging experiences, personalized on-demand car/ride-sharing services, integrated parking solutions and much more…
About Christian Eckert
He is a digital product innovator and executive creative director, pioneering automotive user experience design since 2001.
He successfully managed and delivered numerous mobility experience design projects for Fortune Global 100 corporations including production vehicles, concept cars, advanced R&D studies and holistic mobility ecosystems during his time at BMW Group and Icon Incar.
Until most recently Christian Eckert was leading the digital product design team at Faraday Future to create a completely new generation of integrated, user-centric cross-platform product experiences for transportation and mobility.
In 2017 Christian founded Xi, a next-gen innovation consultancy creating future user experiences for a new era of mobility.