Looking in the rear-view mirror: What looking back can teach us about the future.
There are, doubtless, many people who abide by the maxim that past performance is no guide to the future.
It’s certainly a good rule when thinking about investment, but what about past experience? Is there a danger of a ‘blindside’, where ignorance of ideas which may have been a little ‘out of time’ might prove to be increasingly damaging right now? Could it be that these ‘old’ ideas could actually be rather useful to revisit, as an aid of jumping further ahead, of providing agility that is much needed today?
We are becoming a society (and an industry) which appears to be increasingly forgetful, our memories becoming as transient as the last Instagram post. Experience, likewise, is often dismissed as of little practical use or value. Indeed, we’ve seen it increasingly cited as a problem, something that holds back progress.
We don’t subscribe to that view. We’ve found experience to be a great (and generous) guide. For us, experience isn’t a rear-view mirror; it’s a two-way lens. Here, take a look…
When you’ve been working in a particular space for a long time (as we have at Meda – in the automotive sector for over 30 years) it’s not difficult to see the cyclical nature of ideas and for them to return, packaged as new initiatives. And while cynical heads might look at these as Emperor’s new clothes, hearts welcome the good ones – and fear the bad, for repeating the same mistakes only leads to the same outcome. Namely failure. And while it may be o.k. for some industries to praise the ‘fail more often’ path to achieving success, it’s not really a pattern suited to those actually building buildings; or retail networks; or any physical presence requiring financial stability and support.
So we thought it would be fun (!) to share some of the things we’ve experienced, and been a part of, over those 30-odd years, to demonstrate that experience can sometimes be a useful place to start from. Even at the risk of being told that you can’t see the future when you’re looking over your shoulder. But let’s see.
Let’s begin way back in the early 1990s. Late Thatcherism was in full bloom, Madchester was the centre of the musical world, interest rates peaked at 15% (ouch, unless you were a saver) and Rover Cars, together with Honda, were doing rather nicely.
Having put British Leyland’s troubles behind them, the Rover marque was then seen as an ‘upmarket alternative to Ford and Vauxhall’ – to the point where they looked appealing enough for BMW to purchase the brand and manufacturing from British Aerospace.
At this point, car dealership design was beginning to capture the attention of marketeers and design companies like us.
The car buying experience at this time, let’s not forget, was as close to all the clichés of terrible car salesmanship (and it was almost entirely salesmen) as you could imagine.
With the marketing team, we dreamt up the idea of a series of ‘carless’ showrooms, in high footfall locations, where passing shoppers could take in the brand’s stories of history, design and technology (such as it was – we’re talking very analogue here!) and, if they wanted, arrange a test drive via their local dealership. Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?
Five sites were completed, including the launch site in Reading, and at Liverpool Street station, above the concourse.
Unfortunately the programme never gained further traction. Rover Cars became a ‘pass the parcel’, with the business changing hands several times before its ultimate demise in 2005. There are, after all, some things that all the experience in the world can’t help with.
But the idea – and reality, though brief – of a showroom dedicated to presenting ideas around ownership, design and experience has now become a major part of car retail planning, at least for some.
We’ve now come full circle and are designing and building showrooms (albeit with plenty of cars on display) for Land Rover (and Jaguar), among others. If the some of the current predictions for changing car use and ownership begin to emerge, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before some of them become ‘car-less’ and more ‘customer-full’ – spaces where you collect your car to use for the time you need it.
That would certainly be an interesting design challenge (as much as a business-shaped one) for delivering the experiences of tomorrow.