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Why Do So Many Self-Driving Vehicles Look ‘Cute’?

**Original article was published on Yanko Design**

Hi, I am Kelly from Knack, where we help mobility brands make their products irresistible.

Self-driving vehicles: We’re seeing them pop up all around us and maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to have a first-hand encounter with one.

Sure, these vehicles look new and different, that makes sense. But why exactly do a majority of them look so… well, cute? You know, they look like little friends that are just begging for a smile and a wave.

The answer lies within a great example of functional aesthetics. By intentionally designing self-driving vehicles to look cute, manufacturers are able to accomplish a few pretty big feats:

Encourage Adoption

Getting people to try and then ultimately adopt self-driving vehicles requires that they are approachable. Unfortunately, the technology behind self-driving vehicles is complex and unfamiliar to the general public. Consequently, the helpful intent of these vehicles is overshadowed by intimidation.

By wrapping the self-driving tech in a “cute” shell, the manufacturers of these vehicles are able to visually simplify the complex and make what could be scary appear friendly. In other words, making self-driving vehicles look cute gives them a fighting chance at being accepted.

In regards to Amazon’s Scout, Sean Scott shared, “One of our favorite parts of this journey so far has been witnessing how excited customers are when they see the delivery device for the first time and how they’ve welcomed Scout into their neighborhood. We have a lot of pride packed inside these cooler-sized devices and love to see such a positive reaction from the community.”

Increase Ridership

Once people are willing to accept these vehicles into their communities, there is yet another feat in getting people to use the product for themselves. “Cute” styling also helps with this.

In order for someone to want to use one of these vehicles, they have to trust it. Because of this, the manufacturers of these vehicles have put an incredible emphasis on safety and respect. The product’s “cute” aesthetic broadcasts this message.

Michael Mauer, Head of Design at the Volkswagen Group, explains, “Powerful bodywork pillars, distinctive wheelhouses, and short overhangs give SEDRIC an impressively robust appearance as the epitome of safety and trustworthiness.”

If you need further convincing… Which one of the examples below would you be comfortable walking up to?

Companies like Postmates pride themselves in delivering a vehicle that is a respectful member of the community. Postmates describes Serve as a “cheerful, trusty sidewalk delivery robot that delivers right to your place.”

With a humble stance, rounded forms, and calming colors, “cute” vehicles seem less foreign and more familiar. A cute aesthetic transforms the vehicle from a machine into a character- something us humans can better emotionally connect with. Similarly, the vehicles seem harmless and respectful instead of brash and unpredictable.

Build Loyalty

While introducing a new vehicle to our streets, self-driving vehicle design teams are taking the opportunity to inject some light-hearted positivity into our communities. To combat the suspicion that naturally arises around an unfamiliar new neighbor, vehicles are being equipped with friendly faces and positive personalities to drive cheer instead of fear.

On Local Motors’ Olli 2.0, “the screen in the front can be shown as eyes, making Olli 2.0 more approachable and anthropomorphic.”

Over time, the vehicle’s cheerful and respectful demeanor pays off as its neighbors accept, grow to love, and eventually defend it- earning product and brand loyalty.


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