Design Battle: How The Plug-In Car Chargers Compare

GE (s GE) raised the bar on hip plug-in car charger design last week with the announcement that it plans to sell an electric vehicle charger called the WattStation designed by Yves Behar, the famous designer behind the One Laptop for Child Project and the Jawbone headset. The news made me think just how important will the design of these first plug-in car chargers be for the successful proliferation of electric vehicles.

Behar told me he designed the WattStation so that the experience would be the complete opposite of pumping gas at a gas station. While gas stations are dirty, noisy, and harsh, Behar said, he tried to make the WattStation “friendly,” simple, welcoming, silent and “more like the greenery in the urban environment.” The WattStation’s rounded, angled screen, and changing LED lights echo an Apple gadget much more than the standard auto gear, a gas pump or a parking meter.

Gadi Amit, the founder and principal designer for San Francisco-based NewDealDesign, which is helping design Better Place’s charging stations, told me a similar sentiment to me back in 2008. He said NewDealDesign is taking a cue from the user experience of gadgets and cell phones for Better Place’s plug-in chargers and that means including familiar aspects like blinking LED lights and making the charging experience a couple-click “painless” process.

Both Amit and Behar emphasized that the design of the plug-in chargers could be a crucial aspect of getting consumers to embrace and use the stations, given how nascent and unfamiliar the technology and marketplace are. There’s very few plug-ins on the roads today in the U.S., but large automakers and startups are introducing the first mainstream vehicles over the coming 12 to 18 months. As Amit said to me, these chargers are for “mass deployment, not just for the rich and famous.”

Here’s 5 plug-in car charger designs. Weigh in on what design elements of the chargers you like best and why:

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