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A post by
Tom Williams
March 20, 2024

How is the software mindset changing the automotive industry?

Q+A with Jose Alves - Interaction Design Director, Ford Design

How is the software mindset changing the automotive industry?

A post by
Tom Williams
March 20, 2024
min read

Good product design thinking can improve digital businesses in all industries. We have invited one of our clients to talk about the challenges of digital transformation within the automotive sector, as the industry looks to the future of electric vehicles and mobility. How do ‘old school’ OEMs like Ford need to adapt, to survive in an increasingly competitive market?

Ostmodern collaborated with Ford Design and Ford Enterprise on a series of projects to address key challenges around vehicle modifications and connectivity. Ostmodern’s team were embedded within Ford Design to help define a meaningful product strategy that achieved business goals, and help them navigate the transition from strategy to implementation.

Balancing a manufacturing mindset with a software delivery approach is an added dimension with clients that are Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Working out how to navigate this relationship, between hardware launch cycles and incremental software delivery, is critical for OEMs like Ford to get right if they want to survive and compete in the market. It also happens to be a very exciting and creative place to operate in and solve design problems!

Ford Design’s team are immensely talented, and collaborating with them was a really rich experience. They have an immense commitment to maintaining relationships with their customers and involving them in the heart of design conversations, which meant recruiting participants in our research activities was a breeze. Ostmodern hosted weekly workshops with both customers and engineers over a 6 month period, to generate insights to inform strategy and design, and validate ideas.

Ostmodern operate in the space between strategy and implementation, and help many of our clients to bring strategic principles to life in their products.

The product design services we offer at Ostmodern are transferable across a wide range of industries. Our rigorous approach to research, strategy and design helps clients identify opportunities for improvement within their digital business, and understand the nuances that come with that. 

For the second interview in our Q&A series, we talk to Ford Design about what digital transformation means in the automotive industry today.

Interview date:
6th March 2024

Jose Alves - Interaction Design Director, Ford Design
Thomas Williams - CEO, Ostmodern

Ostmodern: Welcome to this Ostmodern Q&A. This time Ostmodern CEO Tom Williams discusses digital design for automotive with Jose Alves from Ford Design.

The automotive sector

Ostmodern: Can you tell us a little bit about your role, and the role of Ford Design within Ford?

Jose: My role, I’m an interaction design director for a team within the broader Ford Design called Human Centred Design. When I  joined Ford the team that I was part of was called D-Ford, and the remit of that team was almost a bit like a start-up within Ford.

So, we used to describe it a bit like one foot in and one foot outside the organisation. We had a little bit of  freedom to operate and to disrupt things and to provoke the business.

Ostmodern: Ford Design within Ford itself, what is the range and score of their role?

Jose: There’s different design teams in the wider Ford company. So Ford Design focuses a little bit on kind of like physical experience, vehicle experience as well.  As well focus on digital experience, as well as digital products  and new kinds of digital services.
Our scope within kind of that portfolio focuses a little bit on kind of our commercial customers and some of the service builders within that.

Ostmodern:Obviously, the automotive industry is going through a period of big change at the moment. What are some of the major challenges that you’ve seen within the automotive industry at Ford?

Jose: You’re right. I think it’s a period of big changes I think for the industry. Not only you have a lot of the old sort of  Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) go through a period of kind of digital transformation, so you have obviously the kind of connectivity aspect of it which kind of like  basically changes how you develop products basically, completely. But at the same time you have electrification. Coming up soon as well sort of like autonomous vehicles so I think there are these three forces, so there’s quite a lot of changing in the industry and that’s a lot of stuff.

Ostmodern: Within that context, it’s kind of opened the market up to other players and increased competition. At Ford, how are you facing those challenges particularly in the context of design to try and address those challenges within the market?

Jose: Yeah absolutely and I think some of the new entrants and some start-ups sort of working in the automotive and mobility space, I think it’s great actually to have their energy. I think in a way it’s driving, you know, these old companies, these old OEMs to up their game as well. You know in these complex organisations you have lots of legacy, lots of unnecessary bureaucracy, so it’s about trying to bust a lot of that right so we can compete at speed with some of these new entrants.

The meaning of digital transformation

Ostmodern: Obviously your background is from digital and then coming to work somewhere where there’s an extremely established culture of manufacturing, what have you seen as the kind of differences between those ways of working?

Jose: I feel a big change already, so I’ve been at Ford for just over four years and the mindset of the company from then to where it is now, some of that driven by the market, by people that join. The way we sort of you know approaching and developing products and the mindset is a lot more close to what you expect from a tech company, and maybe not the stereotype of a big manufacturing company.

Ostmodern x Ford Design

Ostmodern: How You know, obviously we’ve been lucky enough to work with you for a couple of years. What is around what we do at Ost that you felt was useful to bring into the mix?

Jose: I really believe that a lot of the innovation happens when you start doing kind of your solution discovery, right, you’re really kind of, really starting to move into like, starting to deliver this thing  find out ok, what enablers do we have to deliver against it? Oh we don’t have that, oh but we have this thing. Or maybe we don’t have that capability internally so we need to go and talk to a third party to … And I think a lot of the creativity and innovation happens there, so I think you guys have, like you operate in that space right, so really you know  translating you know kind of  initial strategies and kind of in a very objective way, in a get stuff done way, kind of bridging that gap between sort of vision and delivery.

Ostmodern: What would you say are the main learnings you’ve taken over the last four years?

Jose: For me coming from you know working in tech companies and agencies and start-ups at times it felt a bit slow, right? And I just want to think sometimes to just move a little bit faster, but I think sometimes you need to move at a certain speed because otherwise you might paralyse things. I think what happens is, there’s, I call it you know the kind of Frozen Middle. So sometimes there’s a group of people in the middle that you have to work with and just maybe sometimes because of you know previous history and kind of background, sometimes some of those conversations can be challenging at times. And so sometimes things are a little bit harder than they need to be, so I think, yeah maybe those are some of my challenges at the moment, so how to convince people to you know do certain things a certain way.

The role of data

Ostmodern: More and more people are making their decisions based on having very rich data sets. Is that something that you’re also seeing?

Jose:  I think on the qualitative side, yes. And I think a little bit of our super power as a team is to you know to put customers at the centre of everything we do. So you know I can’t remember a project where we haven’t talked to customers right. Being first to you know identify an opportunity or at a later stage as well a certain project to test something and validate it a solution. So I think on that side it’s extremely important and I think sometimesI feel that’s a little bit of our super power when we go and talk to others and they you know the point of view is very “ me research”. I’ve been in this company for a while kind of know better. So there’s nothing more powerful than you come with a customer story and you or present an insight in a very compelling way, so I think we you know, everything we do is informed by that.

On the quantitative side, it depends.

Ostmodern: You know it’s been fascinating working with you and the way that you’ve put it today has been really interesting so thanks a lot.

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