Since designing his first car at age 8, Fang has wanted to create a car that does not hurt people or the environment. Now, with his master’s degree in transportation design from the Umeå Institute of Design, he is ready to take the next step towards fulfilling his aspiration.
Siyuan Fang explains that, unlike most young car enthusiasts, he was not always drawing sports cars as a child. But then one day, something happened that changed the course of his life.
“When I was 8, my mum had a car accident,” he recalls. “Fortunately, she was lightly injured and recovered well, but I’ve never forgotten the experience. That was when I realised that something had to be done about the automobile, to make our world a better and safer place.”
Fang’s response was to design a car made of rubber and fabric. With its soft shape and lightweight structure, the imaginary vehicle bounced on the streets like a balloon. It could jump over traffic jams and never harm pedestrians. There were hundreds of thousands of small holes around the car that harvested hydrogen energy from the air, allowing people to travel as far as they wanted.
Although Fang is now 24, he still envisages a future in which cars contribute to society and the environment, instead of hurting them. He says his ideal car is very intelligent, with self-driving capabilities powered by robust software, and covered in sensors, making it extremely efficient and safe. Meanwhile, the powertrain is sustainable, with zero emissions and less noise. These cars are also smaller, with four seats or less, and shared by more people, ensuring flexible usage and no waste of resources.
In 2012, Siyuan Fang won an award for Best Lifestyle Design in the Chinese Car Design Awards for his bachelor’s degree. The prize was a short-term exchange course at the Umeå Institute of Design, one of the top car design schools in the world.
“It was fascinating,” he says. “I fell in love with everything I saw in Umeå and applied for the master’s programme directly after my B.A.”
The master’s programme taught Fang to design cars with a user-centred approach, to always to have an open mind, and to be ready to challenge traditional thinking and push for innovation.
Today, his dream car is less like a piece of machinery and more like a living being.
“Thanks to artificial intelligence and physical robotics, the headlights are like eyes that communicate the car’s emotions, while the wheels can stretch out like human arms and legs,” he says. “The car interacts with me through natural speech and body language, driving me around and supporting my lifestyle like a best friend.” Modern technology has made it possible to blend the digital and physical worlds, he says.
“This has created a new playground for designers, enabling us to design products in both the virtual and physical realm. I intend to go beyond designing shape and form, towards crafting a core user experience.”
Fang believes that, whilst carmakers used to be overly focused on engine speed and superficial styling, the cars of he the future will be designed around autonomous driving and electrification.
“Electric self-driving cars are already on their way to our streets, with huge environmental benefits, refined in-car experience and the potential to reshape our transport system,” he says.
With a diverse background that includes product, interaction and transportation design, Fang creates cars with a creative, holistic perspective. He says that being Chinese with a Swedish education has also contributed to his versatility, showing him the value of both community and independence.
“If you can balance the two elements and take the best from each, you will create products that can truly improve the drivers’ lifestyle,” he says.
Now Fang, who says that he is “made in China and polished in Europe”, is ready to take his adventure to the next level – with a planned move to the United States.
“The US is full of technology giants who see cars as the next wave of opportunity,” he says. “A lot is about to happen there, and I don’t want to miss the party!”