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Ford HQ Dearborn michigan

Go Further | Ford’s 2012 Trend Conference

Ford HQ Dearborn michigan


We were invited back to the Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan at the end of June for their annual design and trends conference.


Over 2 and a half days, and along with 250 other editors, bloggers and journalists, I was entertained with ideas and information during panel discussions on four major themes: The Age of Accessible Design, Eco-Psychology, Urbanization and Streamline & Simplify, got up close with the 2013 Ford vehicles on the testing track and was thrown around in the back of a Police Interceptor. Fun!


The discussions focused on the current trends within and the future of each of the four themes.


The conference kicked off with an address from Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry and current executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, who, as a lifelong environmentalist, has made it his mission to turn the motor company into the environmentally aware and active one it is today. No easy task after being warned to ‘immediately cease association with any known or suspected environmentalists’ when he first started at the family business.


Today, 85% of a Ford car is recyclable. Even the turf on Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions and host of the Super Bowl final in 2006, is made from recycled Nike athletic shoes.


Ford design panel


L-R: Ari Goldberg CEO and founder of StyleCaster, Gretchen Gscheidle Research & Development at Herman Miller, Christian Siriano fashion designer and 4th Season Project Runway winner, artist & architect Adam Kalkin and J Mays head of global design at Ford.


The panelists for the first session, working in areas of fashion, industrial, architectural and automotive design, all noted similar trends in their areas of the industry. These were:


The Democratization of Design – Designer clothes, furniture or features becoming accessible to everyone. This is most often seen in creative collaborations between high-end designers and everyday retailers and brands. Think Marni x H&M, Missoni for Target, Mary Katrantzou x Topshop or Jean Paul Gaultier for Coca-Cola. Locally, the Mr Price Project ranges come to mind.


For Ford, this means including designer features and the newest technology in their vehicles no matter the class.


Wouldn’t it be great to see big South African stores collaborating with the immense pool of independent graphic, product, jewellery and fashion designers that we have? How about it SA retailers?


Eco-design – Whether designing a house or a poster, designers are becoming increasingly aware of their materials and methods. Seen over the years through the use of reclaimed materials, making products that are recyclable and the rise of Eco-fashion, today and tomorrow Sustainable design means using environmentally responsible suppliers, packaging and distribution methods.


If you’re sewing something, going as far back along the design process as researching the methods used to create the fibres and dyes for your fabrics and as far forward as finding new ways of dry-cleaning, usually a chemically-heavy procedure.


Down-sizing – Across the United States, home of the McMansion, people are starting to realise that living large is not sustainable. This is resulting in a down-sizing of houses and an importance is being put on the curation of a home. Unique and well-designed pieces of furniture or art are becoming more important than a flat screen in the bathroom.




L-R: Best-selling author Cher Fischer, Independent film producer Peter Glatzer, Actor and filmmaker Adrian Grenier, John Fiera Ford’s Global Sustainability Director, Liz Heller CEO and co-founder of Buzztone Inc and Tim Sexton producer of Rock the Vote, Live Aid events and creator of MTV’s Feel the Power.


Helping with the process of curating a sustainable lifestyle is SHFT, an online multimedia platform started by two of the Eco-Psychology panelists, film producer Peter Glatzer and Adrian Grenier (also known as Vinny Chase from HBO’s Entourage). Who, along with their fellow panelists, foresee a trend of people relying less on government or NGOs to save the world but who’ll instead start voting with their pay cheques by making educated buying decisions.


Perhaps more a hope than a prediction, SHFT are doing everything they can to make this happen with their online promotion of environmentally-friendly products, artists and influencers.


This is the trailer for their original digital series in association with Ford, The Big SHFT, to give you an idea of the content they are producing:




urbanization at ford


If things carry on as they are now, by 2050 there will be 4 billion cars on the road. 2010’s 11 day traffic jam in China, anyone?


Urbanization was the 3rd group discussion where Ford easily admitted that the solution to this problem may not be car related at all. Listen to Bill Ford’s TED talk on some of the technology they’re already working on to avoid a global gridlock.


With this thinking in mind the focus has definitely shifted from ‘a Ford in every garage’ to ‘accessibility to better lives’.


A great example of this is Ford’s SUMMUR project that sends out mobile clinics offering medical supplies and prenatal care to pregnant women in rural India. The technology in the vehicles will allow nurses from areas that lack internet connectivity to send patient data to a doctor in the city for a quick diagnosis.


Manager of Social Sustainability, David Berdish also briefly spoke about a project they’re involved in that will provide safe access to public transport for people living in Cape Town’s townships.


simplify and streamline

 L-R: Director of User Experience for the Windows embedded division at Microsoft John Hendricks, Gary Clayton CEO for Nuance Communications and Parish Hannah, Director of Human Interface for Ford.


The last theme was Streamline & Simplify. As the title suggests, it was about how having an app or a gadget to handle our every task doesn’t make our lives simpler. Funny, that.


A current trend when developing technology is to simplify by putting an all-important emphasis on user experience, and more specifically on taking time to find out how people naturally use something as opposed to how you think they’ll use it.


Ford is continuously working on making technology in their cars seamless and natural. This also applies to advancements in voice recognition technology. There is more than one way to say something, not to mention the variations in accents, your car or phone should be able to understand your unique way of speaking.


During this session we were introduced to a whole range of new features. The coolest by far for me was voice-activated Gmail chat from your car, how great?



The Ford Motor Company has always been about making people’s lives better. This sentiment isn’t changing, just the way they do it is.


Thanks for the insights, Ford!



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