Professional automotive graphic designer is working on 3d cad software

Why design thinking is the real engine for electric vehicle adoption

The power of design thinking can unlock a new e-mobility ecosystem for environmental gain.

Three questions to ask

  • How will understanding the need for collaborative design impact your strategy now?
  • Does building an e-mobility ecosystem mean more than consumer vehicles alone?
  • What will moving beyond design thinking mean for you?

When we think about truly great design, there are, of course, icons. The classic perfection of the mid-century lounge chair. The timeless perfection of the original glass cola bottle. But while we tend to understand design as the end product of a creative and engineering process that put the brilliant, shiny thing in our hands or our homes, the real impact of design comes from something called design thinking. And it can solve a lot of problems.

As a discipline, design thinking focuses on prioritizing consumer needs above all else and is built around a foundational understanding of how humans interact with our environment to create better solutions to the problems life throws our way. That might be as simple as improving the functionality of utilitarian products, or instead tackling a challenge so complex that doing so could have major, far-reaching impact on life as we know it. Case in point: designing the transition to, and widescale adoption of, electric vehicles (EVs), a society-wide behavior and infrastructure shift, that if successful, will rapidly accelerate climate control strategies for future generations. Let’s take a closer look under the hood at the key issues around bringing the power of design thinking to the creation of a whole new e-mobility ecosystem across the globe.

Understand the need for collaborative design thinking strategies is now

EY research shows that US sales of EVs will surpass traditional automotive purchases by 2036 – a full decade ahead of earlier tipping point predictions. And it can’t come fast enough. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – estimates traffic accounts for 24% of carbon emissions worldwide today. Think about that. By redesigning the way we move people and goods from A to B on a macro scale, we can set the world on a path to reducing almost one quarter of global emissions. The catch, of course, is that doing so effectively and on an appropriate timeline, will require both a collaborative coming-together of a wide variety of influential players from government to utilities and automotive manufacturers but also, just as critically, intelligent design thinking. At present, automotive manufacturers are designing EV models in their own silos with some investing billion-dollar figures in their own charging station network buildouts because their business models can’t wait for public sector funding or slower moving utility infrastructure progress.

Estimates put that required charging station infrastructure need at 1.03 million1 community level sites, all necessitating a dramatically improved experience for users: seamless, consistent and rapid charging, internet access and a safe, friendly environment to help us all on our way. That will take time, but vehicles are rolling off the production line now. As acceptance, adoption and demand continue to rise exponentially in the coming few years, collaborative design thinking between influencers must take a far more pivotal role in driving the transition. Manufacturers, utilities and private sector initiatives must share data and learnings now to enable a better designed, more efficient foundational process on which to build everything from infrastructure to vehicles and the experience of using them.

The reward for doing all of this well will be a huge shift for the manufacturer and the consumer. On the production line, that means efficient vehicle production based on shared, collaborative information and designed for standardized charging networks nationwide. It’s big news for consumers too. Today the average EV owner heading out on a long journey with worries about battery life and traveling distance, must research where to charge along the way, deal with the cumbersome experience of doing so, and sometimes may even have to hope for the best. Tomorrow’s car owner will own a vehicle, easily charged at home. They’ll hit the road with a long-life-charge battery and have no worries about finding an easy, fast and consistent charging experience at grocery stores and charging stations along the highway. One day they may even simply subscribe to a car and return it when its battery life is exhausted.

This is a seminal moment for society way beyond how we simply all get from A to B. A convergence of technology, environmental concern from consumers and auto manufacturers, and an urgent need to do better for the planet. We’re embarking on building a new e-mobility ecosystem, and it’s going to require true collaboration.

Building an e-mobility ecosystem means more than consumer vehicles alone

By 2030, the United States will have 18 million2 electric vehicles on the roads with commercial fleet transitions fueling even greater adoption numbers. But building an ecosystem of e-mobility options must reach way beyond single family EV ownership. Commercial fleet transition will increase the scale and pace of broader adoption, of course, but to make a true emissions impact and build the ecosystem needed for the future, we’re going to need to move beyond that to incorporate every mode of transit.

Electric buses, trains, light rail, taxis and watercraft are next. That’s a massive endeavor and a required sea change of design. But design thinking strategies that shape these new transportation systems and vehicles specifically around the human experience will be an essential factor in delivering consumer acceptance. That means careful consideration of geographic location, population density and human traffic to scale appropriately and create environments that promote convenience and enjoyable travel experiences. Lifestyle considerations too – bike racks, easy on and off entrances, entertainment systems, and smart charging ports for all users, as well as demographic design considerations. Are we guaranteeing and designing for improved mobility, safety and assurance for elderly travelers as well as young families? All of this is in play and “all” that’s at stake, according to an EY analysis, is a $72 billion e-mobility market by the end of the decade, not to mention sales of ancillary products like home charging stations and batteries.

The move from design thinking to action

Design thinking will play a critical role in the next, imminent stages of everything from consumer EV design to the experience we all enjoy traveling across country on a family vacation or grabbing the commuter train to work. The ease of travel. Connected digital environments and lifestyle-forward functionality. But there is also a strategic opportunity that exists now for companies to take a broader, ecosystem-thinking approach and get involved.

Whether you’re in utility power generation or automotive design and manufacture, find ways to start conversations now around accelerated collaboration initiatives for tomorrow. Doing so will create incredible efficiencies and better synchronize the consumer experience with the revolutionary products and services required to deliver it. For those companies seeking investment opportunities, consider initiating outreach to the wide diversity of public transportation, electrification initiatives and private sector startups working to effect change. Consider where you can fast track the game-changing ideas and technologies that will begin to super-charge the e-mobility ecosystem that’s coming.  

The world is changing. Electric vehicles will soon be the norm for consumers and every form of commercial transportation. In the meantime, there is an enormous challenge and business opportunity for utilities and energy companies to step forward, work together and build the critical infrastructure we need for the road ahead.


There’s opportunity for EV manufacturers, battery producers and utilities embarking on charging station network construction, to align and improve charging deliverables and pricing. And at the macro level, for every transit mode to design more efficient ways for greener, data-driven vehicles and transit systems to align and intersect efficiently for 21st Century consumer travel. This is an enormous, complex and multifaceted challenge and a true watershed moment to disengage with the models of the past and reinvent a more efficient, interconnected and greener future.

Related articles

What utilities can do to secure the eMobility future — and their own

With investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, utilities could earn billions in additional revenue and prepare for the industry’s future. Learn more.

03 Mar 2022 Karen Felton + 1