Making the BMW wall box beautiful

A rapid service design project explored what customers love and hate about electric cars - and found some practical, beautiful solutions for BMW EVs

Warning: liveblogging

Prone to error, typos and crimes against grammar. Post will be updated and corrected during the talk and over the 24 hours afterwards. 

Julia Werner, IXDS & Stephan Augustin, BMW

In 2011, BMW asked IXDS to investigate the experience of recharging a car. Customers have a fear of electric cars, because they are unfamiliar with them. BMW provides many services to ease these worries. The reality of home charging is ugly, stupid boxes – often like the garage it’s housed in. They wanted to provide a better experience for their customers than that. 

BMW delivered them a super-expensive prototype electric car – at a time when cars were being burnt in Berlin. They sought applications for test drivers. For the first month it was like talking to new parents – everything was new, exciting and scary. They set up “confession boxes” to allow people to answer questions. They whittled down to eight drivers they wanted to work with more. They got the drivers to write diaries or capture good and bad moments with a camera. 

One guy in a suit pointed out it was very hard to deal with heavy cables in the rain, when you’re dressed for work. Another carried a range of cables around with him to deal with any situation he could find for charging. Electric car drivers have to bring their own cable – because changing stations won’t accept liability for damaged cables on site. Another driver covered the charger indication light with his hat, because he didn’t want more attention drawn to the car in the area he lived…

Test drivers were forbidden from taking long journeys – but one did one anyway, meticulously planning charging points along the way. 

This all lead to some very intense workshops at BMW. The came down to a top three ideas:

  • Ambient Charging – better information and support in charging, including projected lights from the wall box showing parking position and percentage charge.
  • Battery Avatar – a device you can carry that tells you how charged you car is. 
  • Project i Community – a community that allows you to share other people’s wall boxes, through a system of credits. You earn them when people use yours, you spend them at other people’s.

They worked with a design company, took over the findings are started designing cable management, ergonomics, shapes, colours and materials. They moved all the wall box electronics above people’s heads. They added a shelf in the wall box, to put your stuff while you’re charging. The cable hangs from above, and “lives” in a socket base, which stops it dragging on the ground. It’s shaped like an hourglass (because you need to be patient) and they use a light to show charge status. 

The final product will be sold with their cars later this year.