How PA Consulting helped design UK's prettiest charge point

19 November 2021 4 min. read

Earlier in 2021, professionals from PA Consulting was selected to partner with the Royal College of Art to help produce a new design for Britain’s electric vehicle charge points. The project aimed to elevate the status of electric vehicles in the minds of UK road users before the ban of new combustion vehicles comes into play at the end of the decade.

It is projected that if the UK’s current fleet of cars were to be replaced entirely with electric vehicles (EVs), it could cut the UK’s total carbon footprint by 12%. As a result, the UK Government is looking to encourage the adoption of EVs over the coming decade – with a mass investment in charging infrastructure forming a key element of that campaign.

In the summer, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sought to generate excitement around the coming changes, by appointing the Royal College of Art (RCA) and PA Consulting to draw up a new design for British charge points. Aiming to be functional and accessible for all users, with sustainability at the heart of the design, the blueprints have been unveiled during COP26 in Glasgow, this November, and could be seen on streets across the country from 2022.

How PA Consulting helped design UK's prettiest chargepoint

Commenting when the project was first announced, Shapps said, “Excellent design plays a key role in supporting our transition to zero emission vehicles, which is why I want to see EV charge points that are as iconic and recognisable as the British phone box, London bus or black cab… The roll-out [of the design] will allow charge points to be more recognisable for drivers, helping to create awareness around the transition to EVs – and linking them to the iconic British designs of old that are recognised the world over.”

The subsequent design for the charge-points centres on a circular handset, sitting on a metallic base. While the black-matte finish on the exterior of the tubular charge point might not be as eye-catching as a bright-red phone box, however the sleek, futuristic design is apparently “loved by consumers for its ease of use, and distinctiveness.”

Dan Toon, PA Design Lead for the UK and Europe, commented, “The end product needed to be functional, inclusive, sustainable, adaptable, affordable, and finally, arguably most importantly for behavioural change, people had to love it. This is just the start. Design has a critical role to play as we transition to a net-zero future.

‘Functional and inspiring’

To ensure that the charge points were much more than just a pretty piece of design, PA developed and delivered a bespoke programme of primary research, helping to uncover human insights and translate these into requirements within a comprehensive design brief. To do this, the firm produced an online diary study, with six EV drivers to uncover the pain points the new design needed to resolve, while it also ran a series of consumer engagement clinics with EV users and non-EV users, gathering 98 hours of input, to understand wider attitudes to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in the UK.

Alongside this human centric programme of research, PA also ran an ‘expressive’ workstream, thinking without constraints to generate genuinely innovative ideas to feed into the design process. This allowed the design team to fully explore ideas such organic forms inspired by nature, experimentation with joyful visual expressions and joyful user experiences.

As a result of these two elements, PA’s design experts produced a set of initial concepts for the new charge point. Through a series of design sprints, they then presented visuals and accompanying descriptions to three digital focus groups, each with both EV users and non-users included. After running the first two concurrently, the consultants processed their feedback and incorporated relevant points overnight and validated the updated concepts the following day at the third focus group.

The final charge point design is resultingly practical and inclusive, while also possessing striking aesthetics. According to PA, the design “encourages engagement,” while by improving discoverability and usability, the design aims to impact on how consumers think about EVs, and help deliver a key reduction in carbon emissions.

Warwick Goodall, an expert in net-zero mobility with PA, added, “The new charge point our PA team designed with the Royal College of Art has the potential to become a British icon, redefining the UK landscape and driving a generational shift in the vehicles people choose to drive. It will also help to position the UK as a global leader in design, EV manufacturing, charging infrastructure and battery technology. We look forward to working together with the public and industry on elaborating this design framework that will accelerate the charge point rollout and bring the electric vehicle revolution to our streets.”