The missing link in evtol design
eVTOLs are poised to revolutionize mobility in ways that humans have been fantasizing about since the Wright Brothers; however, there are many barriers yet to be surmounted: power and battery density, policy and legislation, infrastructure. But I would argue the most understated barrier to widespread adoption is user perception and public acceptance.
Public acceptance seems to take the caboose in every industry overview or is omitted completely. Right now, eVTOL companies are just focused on “making it work”. The industry as a whole is not feeling enough urgency about the degree to which user perception and public acceptance is already making the difference for evtol companies between wild success or dismal failure. (That, or they’re not channeling that urgency toward the right solutions.)
What’s missing?Say we pass the needed legislation and realize the minimum viable power, battery, and technology requirements to make and eVTOL legal to fly. How do we then achieve mass adoption? The industry will be a flop if no one buys, and consumers won’t adopt an evtol experience that is simply a functioning personal air travel vehicle. That’s not the selling point. If they wanted that they could use a private charter plane and the infrastructure would already be there, unlike eVTOL. The general public isn’t hesitant about the advent of ubiquitous eVTOL travel simply because of legal or functional impediments. Overcoming these are table stakes. Mere functionality and legality is not the barrier to mass adoption. So what is then? Answer: The eVTOL experience is still missing.
By default eVTOLs use will be limited to early adopters at first. That’s fine. You want it that way in order to catch the peak of the Rogers adoption curve and also because the industry has yet to scale to the capacity needed for larger volumes of users. There is also already a dedicated following of early adopters in the eVTOL space, and once they set the example, surely more will follow, right? Not necessarily. The reality of the adoption curve doesn’t progress as passively as that. After the early adopters, the rest of the world’s conversion isn’t a foregone conclusion. There are a host of factors that have to be present to trigger the next group of adopters to adopt. For example, simply seeing all the crazy early adopters trying out an eVOLT on their way to work isn’t singularly going to convince the next wave of 9-5ers to try it out. So what is that next activation energy needed to grab the next wave of users? What is the added safety, or convenience, or pleasure that is going to smooth the journey from early adoption to mass adoption for? What transforms eVTOL from an end unto itself into an indispensable part of daily life?
The Missing Link in eVTOL Design
Understanding the Challenge
For eVTOL, overcoming the aggravating factors of safety, noise, and the “not in my backyard” mentality will only come with believable storytelling that the benefits of mass eVTOL adoption will outweigh drawbacks. To do this, leaders of eVTOL innovation need more than warm and fuzzy vignettes of a utopian evtol experience, or sexy exterior renderings. We need down to earth, high-resolution storytelling addressing the end-to-end user experience at each detail or touchpoint if we’re to address the sky-high expectations of users – from early adopters to laggards. And there needs to be real, tangible innovation work around compelling use-cases that prove the merits of the eVTOL ecosystem.
The devil is in the details. Who is thinking of a delightful ingress/egress, user interface, control panels, emergency exit or stop, seating, human traffic flow at vertiports, servicing and maintenance usability, cargo and storage for backpacks, suitcases, golf bags, strollers? Investors want to see this kind of thoughtful addressing of human needs through a well told and specific story, not just a relatively context-less piece of technology. These details are what make the idea of eVTOL more than a sci-fi concept that is perpetually 10 years away in everyone’s mind. That’s what makes it real. You still want to move fast and be first to market. But you’ll be quickly surpassed if you don’t present a convincing experience, make it real and get it right for your chosen segment of users, which also means defining your target market segment. (More on that later).
Look no further than the computer – cutting edge technology that until it was made usable and approachable for consumers by Apple was only gaining a portion of market share with highly specialized tech nerds. Look no further than google who made picking a needle of desired information out of an endless haystack of available information as easy as typing or speaking a question into a search bar. Look at Davinci, still the leader in robotic surgery tech because it’s more usable, ergonomic, and elegant than competitors.
You need to be thinking about usability and user perception now while you’re trying to “make it work”, while you’re developing the architecture, while you’re defining policies, while you’re building infrastructure. The company that is first to market with a genuinely convenient, sustainable, safe-feeling, and thought-out-down-to-the-granular-details experience will be the market leader, and here’s why. Because no one has done it yet.
What’s the solution? How are you going to develop all these pieces of the puzzle in believable terms, grounded in evidence from robust research on both technology viability and the needs, desires and actual behaviors of users? Answer: a expertly targeted and experienced application of innovation strategy and human-centered design methodology. In particular, more investment and effort dedicated to generative user research. A shift in focus from using vague and inspirational visions to capture hearts and imaginations to using carefully calculated storyboards, animations, proof-of-concepts and user experiences. Here’s a high-speed fly-by of some of the tactics you can use to achieve this and avoid the pitfalls we’ve been speaking about. By the way, these are all aspects of the design process through which we have guided countless clients as we helped them create solutions that achieved market success.
The company that is first to market with a genuinely convenient, sustainable, safe-feeling, and thought-out-down-to-the-granular-details experience will be the market leader, and here’s why: Because no one has done it yet.
1. Design the Right Product
It sounds elementary, but it’s not easy. It means research into what you think are the use-cases you’re designing for, and then researching to validate or invalidate the relevance of those use-cases. Where is the verifiable market demand, and how/where should you position your product development efforts to calibrate accordingly? We know this can be a huge lift up front and the task can be daunting. We’ve helped dozens of small and big companies through this exact journey using our proprietary Genesis Innovation Strategy process, which has led to profitable business outcomes for them through the products they are staged to create as a result of this work. Curious about how we do it? Learn more about our Genesis process.
2. Define Your Target
Make sure you’ve defined a specific target user segment based both on research into where the best market opportunities lie, and an assessment of your own internal strengths and technologies. Own a niche. “Stop trying to be all things to all people” is one of our favorite sayings here.
Recent research says the upper middle class will be the early adopters of evtol, but even that is a very broad category that can be broken down into many sub-segments that would have very different needs from each other. Who are you designing this experience for?
3. Design Research
Research and understand your target users through both quantitative and qualitative methods. What pain points do they see in the experience? What do they actually mean when they say “safety” is important to them? What part of an experience embodies that for them? What does “convenience” mean to them? How would they like to control the experience or be guided through it at various points? How will they use this service (or misuse it)? How will their behavior need to change in order to adopt this technology and what will it take to get them to see the change as beneficial? What will change their mindset from “how can I afford this?”, to “what can I give up to have this experience”. Our research team loves to tackle a juicy user research task like this and has done this type of quant. and qual. work with user segments all over the world. To learn more about design research methods and processes, read this article.
4. Decision Time
Armed with all this research and evidence, choose what specific pain points to address within your piece of the evtol experience.
Now you enter the design and build phase (which is also one of our core areas of expertise). Ideate diverse solutions through rough sketching or quick and dirty models and prototypes. Get “hands-on” together with users through co-creation to test and validate the concept, and make sure these sessions are overseen by both design researchers and designers to extract and collect important feedback from your users.
In our workshops with users, we love to use this opportunity together with our client to uncover much higher fidelity information from users on design direction and likes and dislikes. As our design research team talks with users, our designers can then run a few feet down the hall to our full prototype shop to build a new model refleting their feedback and gauge their response in real time.
Use a scorecard based on criteria from your user research to prioritize and rate each concept after inital ideation to focus your refinement efforts and after co-creation sessions to finally identify the top solution for continued development.
6. Tell the Story
Finally, thoroughly tell the story of the experience created by your specific solution to a real and specific problem designed for your specific target users. Use tools like prototypes, proof-of-concepts, storyboards, photos, videos, illustrations, or animations to show that this experience as believable and within reach.
7. Prove It
The proof is in the pudding. Prove the validity of your solution by tracing it back to your research data, and validation from your users.
Of course, this process includes many stages with high amounts of ambiguity. Which market segment should you go after? Which needs should you address out of all the pain points that surface in qualitative and quantitative research? How do you decide which concept to prioritize and develop? All of these are questions that it takes experience and internalized understanding of the innovation and product development process to navigate. We’ve been practicing new product development and the human-centered design and innovation process for nearly 9 decades and would love to help take the guess work out of this journey with you.
Shameless Plug: If we can design and build a walking car category from the ground up, we can make make your eVTOL experience fly! Drop us a note!
It’s worth emphasizing that we understand many companies in this space are startups and have limited amounts of money and even less time. If that’s you, hear us out. We do want you to hit the market as quickly as possible. We’re not trying to slow you down. We understand that you often have to get scrappy and do some things “bass ackwards” and break things just to get to the next step. BUT, we would love to help you make sure that when you do hit the market, you’re relevant and staged to blow up (metaphorically, of course), AND sustain that momentum. We don’t want you to be just another flash in the pan. There’s a fine line to walk here and a balance to be struck. That’s why it’s so urgent to pick a part of the evtol equation where you know you can win because you’ve done your homework. That’s also why you need people who have been doing this for years who can step in and guide you efficiently through this ambiguous process.
Design the eVTOL Experience
You want mass adoption? You want investor attention? Narrow your use-case focus, gain a deeper understanding of your users, and a develop a more robust experience and solution through believable and rigorous show and tell.
The bad news is that the industry hasn’t done enough yet to flesh out the eVTOL experience in believable near-term dimensions. The good news is, there is lots of room (and need!) for you as innovators and opportunity seekers to grab a piece of this pie, to get a share of the capital being dumped into this category, to innovate your way into the white space within evtol. It’s wide open. As wide as the sky.
Lynnaea has a natural passion for storytelling and building relationships. She started her college education in Journalism, but soon found her passion in switching and completing her degree in Industrial Design. Now she uses her industrial design skills and enthusiasm for communication to support studio projects and manage Sundberg-Ferar’s marketing function. In her spare time, she is a freelance musician, reads, does anything outdoors, and works with her husband on updating their 1924 Detroit home.