UK government unveils EV chargepoint design in electrification push

The charging point, designed by PA Consulting and the Royal College of Art, hopes to be “as recognisable as the red post box or black cab”.

The government has revealed a prototype for an electric vehicle (EV) chargepoint, in its push to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The charging point has been designed by product designers PA Consulting in collaboration with the Royal College of Art (RCA). It was revealed at the UK Pavilion at UN climate change conference COP26.

As the design team explains, there were a few challenges in developing the device. Many private companies are creating and installing their own charging points already, for example. It is estimated that there are 42,000 charging points in the UK.

The chargepoint has to make “charging easy, safe, and practical for as many people as possible”, the team explains, and incorporate a design that “could become as recognisable as the red post box or black cab”.

Another problem is the perception of EVs and their useability. PA Consulting design and innovation expert Dan Toon says, “We know that excellent design has the power to dismantle barriers to growth and simplify the user experience.”

“For chargepoints, this means making the switch to EVs more attractive, accessible, affordable and secure for drivers without negatively impacting pedestrians and other road users,” he adds.

The work has been commissioned following competition for a contract worth £200,000 from the Department for Transport’s (DFT) Office of Zero Emission Vehicles.

“Simple and modern in appearance”

The prototype comprises a standpoint and a circular handle, used to connect vehicles to the power source. The consultancy describes the design as “simple and modern in appearance” while combining “practicality and inclusivity with inspiring aesthetics”.

The handle lights up on the inside, which indicates charging status to users. While materials have not been finalised, it’s likely to be made of a metallic material with some kind of protective finish, explains Toon.

The grip is set to have a textured finish inside and use a material that is robust but easy to handle, according to the designer.

Toon describes the prototype’s colour as a midnight blue with bronze tones. “We had to be extremely sensitive about what this might be like when it’s on the end of your street,” he says.

He adds: “It’s okay for a red post box because there’s not many of them, but imagine there’s a street with four of five of these installed – you wouldn’t want to see a red dominating.”

“Heritage breakage”

Throughout the process, PA Consulting worked with a user group comprising EV and non-EV users in an attempt to “understand wider attitudes to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in the UK”.

The consultancy also collaborated with semiotics specialists in an attempt to understand “the essence of British design”. This helped the team understand the “tension (or antagonism) between contrasting elements, such as joy and utility or heritage and modernity”.

Toon expands on this concept, outlining the tension between “outright utilitarianism” and “joy” that exists within popular British products such as Dyson’s vacuum cleaner. Another important antagonism was “heritage breakage”, Toon adds.

“It was about understanding and recognising our heritage, but at the same time breaking it in such a way that the design still works,” he says. Toon hopes that this concept comes through with the lighting elements, which are modern but also “part of the user experience”.

One problem that has existed in the industrial design sector is an underrepresentation of female designers, which can result in products that do not address the needs of a wider audience. Toon explains that accessibility was a priority in the prototype – from the grip size to the height of the charging point.

“The automotive industry has been traditionally quite masculine,” Toon says. “The electric car transition has an amazing opportunity to be much more balanced and more feminine. With this design, we found that the design was quite appealing to both men and women.”

Meanwhile the design team carried out user research with 30 different organisations across the motoring sector, including manufacturers, local authorities and consumer groups. These include Motability, a UK disability charity which seeks to help people lease vehicles using their disability benefit.

Next steps

It is not yet known when the chargepoint will be rolled out, or its final iteration. Toon hopes that a next phase will include real-world testing on protoypes, while PA Consulting is open to sharing its findings with other manufacturers.

According to the DfT, the design will “raise awareness and generate excitement around EVs” as it hopes to “build one of the most convenient, affordable and reliable charging networks in the world”.

The design was revealed by a series of pledges from the UK government. It confirmed that all heavy good vehicles (HGVs) in the UK will be zero-emission and that new, non-emission HGVs would be phased out by 2035.

Hide Comments (20)Show Comments (20)
  • Mike November 11, 2021 at 7:02 am

    I honestly struggled reading the word salad by Mr Toon. This reeks of contracts handed out to buddies by Tory Cronies.

    No normal Brit will care at all about the design..that I can assure you and this is a dead pipe dream already as commercial supply will do what it does based on cost..not design.

    Besides..who is going to care what it looks like when every British street is full of Wheelie who will care!

  • Mark Smith November 11, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Why do you think it a good idea to put these in the footpath?

  • Nick Harrison November 11, 2021 at 9:44 am

    How does this deal with the different vehicle charging connections, as I understand there is no universal plug/socket standard between manufacturers in the UK ?

  • Barry H Ginsberg November 11, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Any clue as to the KW limit (50,150,350?)

  • Skalamanga November 11, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    Looks terrible, that ridiculous doughnut on the top is completely impractical, and the display looks to be about 2 feet lower than the average adult’s eye level.

    There should be a push to make EV chargers completely automatic and unobtrusive.

    A kerbstone could be replaced with a docking port that connected to the car without human intervention and the interface be in the car, not the charger.

    The only noticeable part should be a painted line around the space, or at most a status light in the tarmac at the open side of the space.

  • Mark P November 12, 2021 at 7:13 am

    We have fallen a long way from the classic post box and telephone box.
    Why make it difficult to see at night? Why make it difficult to repaint after a decade on the street with those intricate edges.
    Why make the charging plug handle vulnerable to vandals and weather.
    Shove a bar through and rotate or a steering wheel lock through and to the bottom and lock it.

    Classic form over function. No thought to ergonomics, robustness or price.

  • Garry November 12, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    Upto 22kw! They spent too much time on aesthetics and have forgotten function.

  • Slartibartfast November 13, 2021 at 10:32 am

    It’s pathetic – the “design” (sic) means it won’t fit into most charging flags (the ring will prevent that). There are multiple charging standards (CHADEMO, CCS, Type 1, Type 2). The ‘user group comprising EV and non-EV users’ is evidently rubbish – any EV owner would tell you the design was not usable and the ring would prevent it being used. Why would you give artists the design brief and not engineers?

  • symcbean November 13, 2021 at 11:47 am

    They don’t know what we’re going to make it out of. The “iconic” design is intended to be invisible. Its not going to look at all like the charging points currently in use. But the really important thing is that they’ve picked the colours.

  • Colin Martin November 13, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    I’m an EV owner who relies on residents charging in my city. I plug into a simple post by the kerb wired into a street lamp at the back of the pavement.

    It’s great we’re progressing the problem of urban charging where people don’t have off street parking. What I don’t understand is why this design is over complicated by including the charge cable. It increases cost, makes it vulnerable to vandalism and the cables will invariably get damaged and left lying in the road. All EVs are supplied with a Type 2 charging cable and EV owners keep them in their car boots. A simple type 2 socket on the charger is all that’s required.

  • Wayne November 13, 2021 at 2:43 pm

    Have the actually tried this on real EVs? The big handle will prevent it from being plugged in on many many cars. Form over function, completely contradicting their statements about it “must work”.

  • Andy Monaghan November 14, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Charge points are being made by private companies that have their own designs, the UK Govt won’t be making them. Designs these companies believe to be best that are meant to differentiate their chargers from their competitors, not standardise them. Why would charge point makers want to throw away what they believe to be the best design and remove what they perceive to be a marketing advantage? Will the Govt perhaps try to force local authorities or govt departments that use vehicles to mandate the design?
    I don’t get it….

  • David Taylor November 14, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    There’s no way that doughnut handle is practical. It won’t even fit the MG ZS EV – one of the most popular and common evs currently on the market due to the design of the cars charge flap mechanism. Why on earth are we departing from the industry standard type 2 connector plug?

  • Adrian November 14, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    The connector is a standard type 2, which will fit everything except leafs, and adapters are readily available. Being type 2, it’ll be 7kW max if its a single phase, or up to 22kW but only a few models can accept that. These are clearly destination /overnight chargers. Not intended for a 30 minute top up.
    The one issue is see is that a lot of car charge sockets are recessed, so the ‘nose’ needs to be a lot longer than shown. Hopefully prototype testing will demonstrate this.

  • Observer November 14, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    It’s a shame the government didnt do this with the electrification of the London > Bristol train line.

  • Mr Kevin Freeman November 14, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    Technology is already overtaking this pointless waste of public funds. The Chinese are already producing cars that charge wirelessly using an induction coil in the road. A painted box and road sign will be all that’s needed.

  • Trevor November 15, 2021 at 8:56 am

    Designed by none users of ev’s just to claim the grant, that handle would stop the plug fitting into my car, that funnel top would direct rain water into the workings. Cable too short to reach. Open to vandalism. Difficult to maintain…….

  • BillN November 15, 2021 at 10:31 am

    This does not appear to comply with BS EN 62196-2…. Which is probably why it would not fit into the charge port of several different electric cars, motorbikes and other vehicles.

    A total and utter shambles.

  • Fred November 15, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    I couldn’t use that, it’s too big or not enough reach to fit my car, an MG ZS EV. I fear there’s not enough research happened with this one….

  • Matthew Worth November 18, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Brilliant! You have created an irrisistable ‘Bullseye Target’ for teenagers and ‘Saturday Night drinkers’ to throw things at and through and smash.

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