Geoff Wardle is Director of Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Educated first as a vehicle engineer and then as an automotive designer at the Royal College of Art in London, Geoff has had extensive experience as a professional vehicle designer across four continents and remains a passionate car enthusiast. However, because of his career in the automotive industry, Geoff became increasingly concerned about the future sustainability of this industry, personal mobility and transportation in general. With more than a decade of full-time involvement with Art Center’s Transportation Design department, in California and in Europe, Wardle has been a continual advocate for transportation designers becoming far more concerned and involved with the many other disciplines that make up mobility in its entirety, particularly in the urban environment.
Question: How do we make modes of public transportation such as buses more desirable?
Geoff Wardle: Well I think the starting point is to not just consider the bus itself. It would be pretty easy to design a bus that had comfortable leather seats and fine audio and a little bit more space. The difficulty is designing that into a system or a service to make it affordable. But we also have to look beyond the bus itself to the complete experience of using the bus. So designers need to get involved in thinking about the complete journey. What does it mean to somebody to leave their home in the morning to catch a bus to go to work for instance? How do they get to the bus stop? What’s the experience of waiting for the bus? What’s the experience on the bus? And then when they get off the bus, how do they make the rest of the journey?
So all of these things need to be seamlessly integrated and it’s a question of giving people the feeling that they have the same level of control over their journey by using the bus as they would if they instead, went to the garage, stepped into their car, took their car right to the outside of their workplace. So, that’s where designers need to focus their attention on say designing buses. Consider the whole experience, not just the bus, and looking at street furniture, bus shelters, the connectivity that we have with all of our technology available now so that customers know how long it will be before they have to wait for the bus. Maybe they don’t have to go and wait at a particular spot for the bus in the future. Maybe the bus will know to make a small diversion and come and collect them from where it’s convenient. So, it’s the total experience.
Question: Can we build on the transportation advancements we’ve made in the last century, or do we need to start from scratch?
Geoff Wardle: Of course it would be fabulous if we could start from scratch. And indeed, there are a few places in the world where I think that they are managing to at least consider doing that. We’re very well aware of major projects to build cities in the Middle East, like Masdar and in China there are supposedly a number of big cities that are going to be built from scratch. Then with sensible planning and inspired design, it’s possible to incorporate a transportation system that’s seamless for the citizens of those cities. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us live in well-established cities and urban environments. And so, unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of saying to residents of Los Angeles or Atlanta or Phoenix, sorry, you’ve got to go live somewhere else for 10 years while we completely reconstruct the city. It doesn’t work like that. So in many ways, we do have to do both. Wherever possible, we need to introduce revolutionary new idea into new cities and new environments. But where we have entrenched environments, we have to build upon what we’ve got. But I am fairly optimistic that given the right inspiration and the right opportunities that can be done to good effect.
Recorded on February 4, 2010