Lessons from a Santaless Sleigh

Having been asked to provide a Design Blog just ahead of Christmas, I wondered how I might combine this yuletide timing with my design research. I have been working on both research and teaching pieces that explore the product, service and system design impacts of emerging electric and autonomous vehicle technologies. That’s not very Christmassy. But then I remembered an old Christmas Card that, almost better than anything I could write, pulls all those design issues together. So, I am sharing this card with you now……

Driverless vehicle designs and the innovative services they provide are increasingly in the news. A driverless bus trial has just taken place here in Milton Keynes, and there are other trials in Oxfordshire and Edinburgh. Driverless taxis operate in China and San Francisco. But this Dave Leech card, commissioned from my longstanding colleague Keith Buchan, dates from nine years ago. It really was a prophetic piece of art.

In the forefront is the Santaless sleigh, which also seems to have disposed of its traditional traction modes of Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer etc. I suppose for ULEZ, electric traction was needed to eliminate all those reindeer emissions in the close proximity of children. Then, over on the left, we have someone who, clearly over the alcohol limit, is enjoying a driverless taxi trip home, and then, in the traffic queue, I especially like the ‘white van no man’!!

But is this just a delightfully cynical view of a new technology? Let’s look a little more at this fun image. In particular, what about the ‘still late for work lane’? Potentially transformative product designs are often used to merely patch up a poor system or process. Our present transport systems are problematic in numerous ways, consuming vast amounts of non-renewable resources, being a major source of global warming emissions, engendering unhealthy lifestyles and contributing significantly to poor air quality. Product level innovation in the form of electric vehicles and driverless technologies might fail to help much if applied within the old mobility regime. One thing we have been exploring in our Future Urban Environments group is how such transport technologies might lead to new service and system level designs – for example reinventing public transport and logistics service designs.

That 2014 Christmas Card actually provides a really good design problem definition. It’s saying that innovating within existing mobility service and system designs will never be transformative and sustainable. That’s the big message behind this seemingly jokey card. The real design challenge is how these emerging new technologies could transform our mobility services and systems. Perhaps that should be the subject of next year’s Christmas Card……




2 responses to “Lessons from a Santaless Sleigh”

  1. Nyasha Chaterera avatar
    Nyasha Chaterera

    I found this blog very captivating, thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Stephen Potter avatar
    Stephen Potter

    Thanks Nyasha. Great to get some feedback.

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