Design for Playfulness

“Simplify, then add lightness.” 

There are two contexts in which this quote from Colin Chapman really hits home.

The first, of course, is in the context of vehicle design and engineering—Colin’s sports car designs for Lotus. To complete this picture, here’s another one of Colin’s quotes for you: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”. You only need to look at the performance of the Lotus cars to realise he was right.

In this context, one of the reasons electric engines are so attractive is precisely that they are so much simpler than internal combustion engines. If you compare the number of moving parts alone, it’s about 10x less. This simplicity translates into instant torque and fantastic acceleration. But electric cars are so heavy, and not just because of their batteries. Add lightness to an electric car, and you’ve got yourself a car that almost can’t help itself but perform like a sports car, which is very much the situation we have found ourselves in.

The second context is less obvious, but equally important. It’s the context of the car’s interior. In their quest to turn their electric cars into the kind of cars that “feel like the future”, many engineers just keep adding more and more useless features to them, most of which take you away from the direct experience of driving. As a result, dashboards end up looking like plane cockpits, and you need to study your car’s manual for a week before you can figure out how to open a window.

The way we see it, life is complicated enough as it is without cars adding to the cognitive load. This cognitive load is, as it were, an extra weight on your shoulders. So, simplifying your interaction with the car will, all by itself, reduce this weight. 

How do we then add lightness, the opposite of the weight on your shoulders? 

Well, have you ever taken a bicycle and just gone for a ride, for the sheer pleasure of riding it? It’s like a mini-holiday, isn’t it? Have you ever wondered what, specifically, it is that makes you feel like that? Is it the feeling of the wind blowing in your hair? Is it that you feel immersed in the world around you? That it almost feels like you’re flying? 

Or is it rather the purposeless nature itself of the ride i.e. the autotelic aspect of it, that makes you feel the same way as you would if you were, say, dancing or playing a musical instrument or a computer game? Generally, it seems to us that the most important aspect is this element of play. Ultimately, people feel happiest when what they are doing feels like they’re playing. Cars should be designed for playfulness. 

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