When it came time to begin design work on the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport, everyone involved with the project was aware of the two SUVs cultural importance. The Bronco had been off the market for over 24 years, during which time the SUV became an absolute automotive icon. As a result, Ford knew that there was a preconceived notion as to what a new Bronco product should be, and to how it should look. While the end result draws clear inspiration from the classic models of the 1960s, the design process itself was anything but old school. In fact, the iconic status of the nameplate forced Ford to take a whole new approach to design and prototyping. That is where the folks at the D-Ford human-centered design lab came into play.
According to the automaker, the 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport were entirely designed using unconventional methods. This started with early sketches, which ditched the traditional glamor shot layout for full-blown storyboards. These sketches were much looser than what we traditionally see come from design studios, but they focused on how the vehicles were going to be used by customers. This focus on human application became a central theme of the design process for these off-roaders. Straying further from the norm, Ford decided against building complex clay models for each design brief, instead opting to build 3D models out of foam and paper. This system allowed for rapid design changes, as well as the incorporation of new features. According to Ford, this process increased modularity and gave us the Bronco’s removable body and roof panels, as well as the Bronco Sport’s safari roof and integrated bottle opener.
Ford also used virtual reality software to build off-road environments to test these designs more efficiently, negating the need to build various early prototypes. These virtual playgrounds allowed designers and engineers to engage with both vehicles in the ways Ford envisioned their customers using them. This trick use of tech helped Ford nab the 2020 Best of What’s New award from Popular Science.
The learnings from the 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport design process, specifically as it relates to human-centered design, are now being used across the company. Ford Motor Company says that the new process is more efficient than their traditional approach, and that it even helped save the automaker money during development.
At least two other future Ford projects post-Bronco have gone on to use this process, though the company hasn’t confirmed which vehicles these are. If this process helps the company crank out more SUVs like the Bronco twins, it is something we are sure fans will get behind.
We were once told by Ford designers that the Bronco’s design has been the catalyst for a “culture change” inside the company. This video helps us understand how.