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Innovation in vehicle customisation

Service Design

Ford came to Ostmodern with a strategic challenge, to address shortcomings in the modification of commercial vehicle fleets. We began with a business challenge and ended up designing, testing and overseeing the implementation of new software that makes the upfitting of vehicles much easier.

The challenge

Upfitting is the practice of customising a vehicle for a specific need or commercial purpose. For example, buying a van, then fitting it out as an ambulance or installing a cherry picker-crane on a pick-up truck. Mostly, specialised vehicles are not made by the manufacturers themselves; customers will use third-party, professional and specialist ‘upfitters’ to turn their fleet into salt spreaders or freezer trucks.

Much of the supplementary hardware fitted onto vehicles (to make them fit for purpose, such as fridges or lifts), needs to interact with the electrical signals in the vehicle in some way. Whether that’s receiving signals from the car, like ‘the engine status is off’ — to automatically turn off the mounted fridge too — or, sending signals back to the car from the mounted fridge, like ‘fridge door is open’ — to signal to the driver if it has been left open.

Upfitters didn’t previously have any direct route to access these signals from the vehicle, they would physically slice into the body work, to reach the wires they needed; this voided the warranty. When modifying a whole fleet of vehicles with the same specification, upfitters would repeat the same method to each vehicle individually.

Visibility of these challenges presented Ford with an opportunity to solve pressing consumer problems, whilst developing a new USP for Ford. 

  • Make it easier for vehicle owners to retain their warranty 
  • Make Ford vehicles renowned for being easier to upfit across large fleets
  • Give Ford visibility of what happens to their vehicles post-production, to improve their solution and open up the potential for new business growth opportunities in the future 
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Our approach

Designing and building better, together

Throughout the project, a multidisciplinary team from Ostmodern was 100% committed to, and embedded within the Ford Design team. Working so closely together allowed us to immerse ourselves in the problem space, learn from experts and stakeholders, collaborate on ideas and guide development. Being embedded in their team meant we could better understand Ford's internal processes as an organisation, in order to anticipate and resolve any blockers in the process.

Establishing and prioritising user-centricity 

Keeping upfitters at the heart of all ideation, concepting and testing was paramount to the success of the project. We established regular and continuous user feedback with engineers to ensure that each idea, concept, prototype and release spent time in the hands of those intended to use it. 

This allowed us to develop and test commercial and product strategies in tandem. We visualised the product ecosystem (hardware, supporting software and business models), gathered feedback from the industry and narrowed down the proposition into achievable first steps.

Industry leading software

During this process our research showed that comparable products were prohibitively complex, with a deep learning curve, which was off-putting for potential users. This presented another opportunity to get ahead of the market, by developing software with ease and speed of use at its core. 

With the proposition in place our team transitioned into the design and specification of the software solution, ready for implementation. Due to the complex amount of electrical connections involved in any potential upfitting project, we had to create an interface that allowed its users to design countless possible logic sequences, with visual clarity. Getting this right relied on a repeated process of — experimentation, visualisation / prototyping, learning from electrical engineers, testing with upfitters and constant, considered refinement. This iterative system is vital in the delivery of software that is effortlessly easy to use.

Programme and delivery oversight

In addition, developing the software solution presented a number of new creative and logistical challenges which the Ostmodern team were vital in helping Ford navigate:  

  • Managing design delivery, including the communication and quality assurance of detailed design specifications across across hardware and software teams at Ford
  • Introducing a user-centred mindset and iterative product development processes into Ford’s manufacturing and engineering teams
  • Navigating and implementing different technical systems and concepts into one seamless, user-friendly interface
  • Helping to manage and align multiple stakeholders with different responsibilities at Ford
The outcome

Keeping a market edge

Ostmodern designed and ensured delivery of an entirely new service that allowed engineers to easily build and deploy modifications. A significant software launch across the new F150 fleet in North America, Spring 2023 and a step forward in UIS technology. 

The automotive industry has experienced significant disruption over the past decade. The rise of electric vehicles, advancements in in-car digital experiences, the genesis of autonomous driving technology, and the growing role of integrated digital technologies in vehicle production have reshaped the landscape. It is vital for industry titans like Ford to swiftly adapt and spearhead these advancements, to maintain their competitive edge. The overall solution Ostmodern helped to create, enabled Ford to break into this competitive space.  

All work
Innovation in vehicle customisation