Ford working with design firm to forecast a future beyond cars

Ford firmly believes that its future business prospects rest beyond simply selling cars. As part of its Smart Mobility Plan, the carmaker has spread its tentacles into a variety of hot technological areas, including self-driving cars, ride sharing, data mining, and multimodal transportation.

To investigate that last concept, Ford is turning to design firm Ideo. The company has worked with Ford before, but now it’s being tasked with imagining the “commute of the future,” according The New York Times. So far, Ideo’s work seems to point to something that doesn’t involve getting behind the wheel of a car, or possibly even hopping on a bus or subway.

Individual car ownership isn’t going away anytime soon; carmaker posted record sales last year, after all. But car-sharing services like Zipcar, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and smartphone apps that coordinate transportation options are already a major force, and Ford wants in. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford CEO said the “mobility” industry was worth $4.5 trillion, compared to just $2.3 trillion for the entire car industry. Ford isn’t going to ignore that.

But Ford doesn’t know exactly what shape the future will take, so it turned to Ideo. Among other things, the company helped Apple design the computer mouse in 1989, and has helped Ikea and North Face create their current brand identities. For Ford’s mobility project, Ideo sent employees on trips around cities to test transportation infrastructure, and also peppered everyday commuters with questions.

After all of that research was completed, the Ideo team developed a “working theory” based on three archetypal commuters: the “Time Trumpers” only care about the speed of a journey, not comfort, “Everyday Improvers” want to balance efficiency and enjoyableness, and “Experience Seekers” are willing to try new things. Ideo created an app for each type, and presented them to Ford in a closed-door meeting in January.

Ford executives apparently liked them, as the they gave Ideo the green light to develop more polished versions, and to eventually integrate them with the new FordPass app. This is Ford’s own mobility solution, a solution designed to coordinate a person’s entire journey by arranging things like parking and pre-planning routes.

FordPass and the collaboration with Ideo are just a couple of the dizzying array of projects and experiments the Dearborn carmaker is currently conducting. Ford is also widely rumored to be working with Google on self-driving cars for ride-sharing servicesFord, although neither company will confirm that.