April 2022
The Future of Transportation Concept Design

Human-Centered The Future of Transportaion Concept Design

Why is it that private vehicles that fit two people across and buses that fit many more people use the same lanes? It seems inefficient, but car culture is a bit more insidious. Car culture begets inefficient city planning, urban sprawl, and pollution. There’s a good reason why parking downtown should be expensive: the more cars there are, the worse the experience for pedestrians.We should be investing in human-centered commercial transportation options. Future transportation concept design is at a crossroads. It must innovate, and it must win more public interest. 

Keep reading for an analysis of the evolutionary trajectory of the transportation industry.

Private New Mobility

Let’s talk about new mobility. This is a re-imagination of what transportation can look like. We are thinking beyond gas guzzlers and suburban sprawl. To see what new mobility concepts we’re currently working on, browse our New Mobility Portfolio.

We’ve already witnessed it in some cities with the proliferation of e-scooters. You’ve probably seen them: the electric scooters or bikes you can rent through an app.

Micro Mobility

Scooters are part of what is called ‘micro-mobility.’ They fill a niche because they are easy to park in an urban setting and cost-effective to maintain. They’re also fun; riding a scooter is a social activity that people find joy in, just like some people enjoy driving cars.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been pretty disastrous for this billion-dollar ‘micro-mobile’ industry. However, analysts at McKinsey believe there is a way for the industry to resuscitate.

To do that, it has to innovate.

The New E-Bike

Our researchers have discovered that young consumers across multiple college campuses in North America wanted an e-scooter that is sustainable, or “green.” They also desired increased storage and the ability to be seated.

We designed a scooter this e-scooter for GenZe with a tablet-like graphical interface as opposed to traditional gauges. One use-case behind this choice of user interface was for a business model where the e-scooter can be rented by app, the tablet interface would then be able to show relevant advertisements to riders as a way to subsidize the cost or the rental and mitigate barriers to entry for lower-income riders. These E-scooters were also designed to gain a market advantage in their position as sustainable, low-cost, Gen-Z-friendly transportation options.

The GenZe scooter improves on the traditional scooter because of its enhanced storage options, with storage being an essential need for personal urban transportation.

It has since been adopted in urban centers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and is a step forward for profitable sustainable transport businesses. This also highlights a need for smart, user-centered product design.

Post-Pandemic Forecast for Micro-Mobility

The post-pandemic forecast for this hard-hit industry is positive. Though the industry suffered from short-term shutdowns due to COVID lockdowns, analysts believe the industry will revive. Consumers actually prefer micro-mobility to other public transportation for hygiene and privacy.

If cities de-invest in private cars and invest in bike-centered transport, this will be an amazing transportation sector to innovate in.

In short, human-centered design has evolved from an initially narrow but honest goal of putting the human at the center (including all human stakeholders that will directly interact with the product throughout all its life) to embracing the larger context and impact of the product on human wellbeing, manifested in healthy communities, societies, and ecosystems.

New Mobility in Public Transportation

What about mobility innovation for public transportation? What can we do for that sector?

Highspeed Vacuum Tube Trains

It sounds fancy, but it might be a real solution for intercity and intracity transport.

The Loop from Hyundai Ventures “The Loop” hyperloop mass transit system which Sundberg-Ferar designed for Hyundai takes inspiration from Elon Musk’s proposed Hyperloop, but the Sundberg-Ferar and Hyundai teams took it deeper and farther. Sundberg-Ferar did primary research on transportation methods and pain points in urban travel using the Bay Area as a testbed, to investigate and validate the usefulness and desirability of a more efficient transport system like a vacuum tube, as well as research and concept design of how the entire experience would work – from infrastructure, to vehicle design and interiors.

It’s our take on the future of mass transit. The Hyperloop system whitepaper is creative and ambitious, but we made improvements where we think they were needed. Our proposed version combines our approach to user-centered research with technologies that are feasibly achievable.


For us, feasibility should be a priority for anyone designing for the future. California’s high-speed train project has been under some scrutiny for its lack of progress despite billions in funding and a decade of work.

Urban Institute researcher Yonah Freemark stated for the New York Times that “we just have a fundamental problem in the United States of building large projects.” As it sits, California’s high-speed rail “is the largest of the projects.”

Consumer Desires

For these new mass-transit innovations to supplant current car-centered transport, they need to meet the “door-to-door” transport outcome.

Users want to minimize inefficient travel time while having flexibility and less time on their feet. They don’t want to spend three hours of dead time at an airport or get sweaty running to a train station from their house.

Product design development for mass transit has to contend with these user desires.

More Futuristic Projects

Walking Cars

In 2019, Hyundai started exploring the concept of a walking car, whether such a thing even had a compelling use-case in the real world, and how a walking car would function and look if it did.

Hyundai trusted Sundberg-Ferar with the project, coming to them with the initial question of “what if cars could walk”, and Sundberg-Ferar took it the rest of the way.

Our team did extensive macro-trend research, secondary and quantitative research, and social listening to understand where the best applications might be for a car with “walking” capabilities. Not only that, but once relevant use-cases had been validated (emergency response, search and rescue, accessible transportation, Sundberg-Ferar did up-front concept design and engineering development to realize what and how this “walking” capability would function for a vehicle in these use-cases.

Ultimately, the project resulted in a 1/8 scale working robot that can walk in both reptilian and mammalian gaits, climb over obstacles, and maintain level if necessary while performing these tasks. It can also drive on passive suspension and have its modular cabin switched out for various configurations.

The concept captured the imagination of media and the public at CES 2019, and then again with a follow-on unmanned autonomous walking car concept in 2021.

Underwater Tunnels

In countries like Norway with many bodies of water to traverse, users believe it is a huge pain to travel around them.

Enter buoyant underwater tunnels submerged 30 meters underwater. Vehicles could travel underwater. Dare we even think about trains for intercontinental travel?

Smarter Highways

We don’t need to stop at smart cars. We need smarter infrastructure as well.

Our existing roads, highways, and parking lots need updates to become smarter. This could come in the form of interactive light or dynamic paint. Roads are common metaphor devices; for the roads of the future, we need to make sure they look the part. We talk more about these ideas in this article.

Why can’t roads charge your electric car as you drive? Why can’t they communicate road conditions to you or traffic obstructions? Why do they have to be ugly grey-concrete structures?

Smarter Highways

If we’re moving away from car-centered transport, we should embrace the technology of drone transport. Drones can deliver groceries, packages, and more to your doorstep. This would eliminate the need for you to go out and get groceries.

Let’s retire the idea of taking up space on the ground for cars and parking lots, and take advantage of aerial space instead.

Another part of this is eVTOL transportation, or air taxis. Just last month Sundberg-Ferar did an internal project predicting the future of the eVTOL experience, and specifically addressing barriers to adoption perceived by passengers and communities. We’ve also written extensively on the future of eVTOL and the need for industrial design to play an integral part in developing the user experience in order for incumbent players to achieve market success.

Understanding Future Transportation Concept Design

The fact is that the industry’s capacity to create compelling designs for the future is not keeping up with technological advances.

We have the technology, but not the infrastructure. We have the technology, but in many cases not the public or government support because there is simply not enough investment in developing transportation experiences based on real needs of real people.

By showing businesses why transportation concepts are profitable, and by proving to the public that we are listening to them in our designs, we can bring new life to the industry.

Let’s connect to share perspectives on the topic of future transportation concept design. Contact us, and we can start the conversation today.

The Future of Transportation Concept Design