frog partnered with ECOtality to create a family of fast charging stations for the next generation of electric cars.
Electric vehicles are no longer the butt of US oil industry jokes. With the launch of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, sustainable, alternative-energy driving experiences are gaining mainstream traction. However, for EVs to really put the rubber to the road, the country’s infrastructure will have to change—we’re going to need charging stations instead of gas stations, so that EV drivers don’t have to head home when they need to “fuel up."
With frog’s help, the San Francisco-based company ECOtality has plugged into the EV-charging market with the launch of its first line of consumer-facing products. Known collectively as Blink, this family of chargers can be easily integrated into different environments—and charge a car in about 90 minutes.
Friendly and Familiar
One of the key design considerations with EV chargers is making sure they aren’t too different from traditional gas pumps. Users need to feel secure in order to adopt early and often. Blink chargers are friendly and unintimidating with a familiar wrap cable design and a pump-like hand-held plug.
The chargers, despite the complex technology inside them, are also easy to install in home garages. Their low profile doesn't take up too much space. Also, the frog team had to consider the fact that EVs don’t have standardized charge point locations (in other words, the “gas cap” isn’t always in the same place). To deal with this the cable storage was separated from the charger itself to give maximum flexibility for locating it in the garage.
“Will a pair of simple shapes—a circle and a square—become the iconic symbol of smart charging for electric vehicles?”
A New Icon
Currently, Blink offers two chargers: a small wall-mounted residential unit and a pedestal unit for commercial applications. frog designed them to be timeless, not trendy. The rectangle and circle design is a nod to the binary nature of electricity, and it makes the chargers immediately recognizable from the road. The look of the units intentionally strays from the usual eco-friendly green colors and leaf imagery. Instead, Blink features a basic black-and-white design language with forms and interactions that mirror familiar electronic devices.
Convenient and Smart
To overcome the “range anxiety” that has long been a criticism of electric cars, ECOtality’s plan is to install 15,000 public charging units in sixteen cities by the end of 2011. Any EV driver will be able to use them. ECOtality will also offer subscription-based plans for the Blink network.
frog worked with the company to create an easily co-branded design for the commercial charging unit that would fit in parking lots at movie theaters, shopping malls, coffee shops, and big box stores—places where people can charge while they do other things since recharging a car battery takes longer than filling a gas tank.
The Blink chargers are far more interactive than today’s gas pumps. They include inviting color touchscreens that deliver information about the charge status and relevant third-party media. Blink uses various wireless technologies to connect back to the network headquarters. Both the home and commercial units provide feedback about energy-consumption behaviors over time and information about when energy prices are lowest. The units are also smart about how they draw current from the electrical grid, which makes them attractive to local utilities who can manage them to prevent the grid becoming overloaded—just another advantage that ECOtality now enjoys over its competitors. The future is now.
frog convened a group of leading energy industry entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators, and together we created a symbol and a brand for the energy-conscious consumer.