Automotive UX as a meeting point between the fields of car design and technology: Granstudio’s and Huawei’s perspective.

Technology opens the way to new mobility models in the automotive industry: inevitably, the implementation of new software will be the fundamental next step to consider in cars’ production.

In this light, integrating the software into the vehicle is a challenge that hasn’t been properly solved yet. In this scenario, User Experience practice needs to be considered when figuring out how users will interact with the product. The new focus will be on usability, security, and enjoyment in the car. UX will be the differentiating aspect for next-generation means of transport.

As is well known, User experience is rooted in the software industry, which nowadays involves mostly computers, tablets and phones infrastructures. Nevertheless, UX design is a process of envisioning solutions that fits user needs, usually through “humanising” a piece of technology. This is why UX should be considered in the design of future vehicles, ensuring a human-centred approach. In addition, UX research could foster the ideation of new concepts to introduce into the car, an ever-fluid space between the digital and physical — the so-called phygital experience.

During our 26th UXTALK, we had the chance to hear from two professionals that apply UX research into the automotive sector:

Watch the seam of the event here.

User Experience in the complete design process of an innovative vehicle at Granstudio — Benedetta Grazian

Granstudio is an innovative mobility studio focusing on research in automotive design, located in Turin. Granstudio designs, defines and develops not only cars, but also future mobility means their style as well the whole mobility system. Granstudio clients include many famous brands like Alfa Romeo and Stellantis. The operative team comprises interdisciplinary experts, both Designers and engineers, who work closely together to analyse different aspects of the same topic.

When designing, it is crucial to think about the whole ecosystem of the car and its context:

“User Experience and User Interface of cars are not only what the users see or touch, as screens and buttons: they involve the whole set of interactions to pilot the vehicles. It includes every movement of the experience of both the driver and the passengers.” B. Grazian

For this reason, the process of designing the machines of the future must start from investigating our society. The UX method allows us to observe and analyse reality as it really presents itself: studying people’s behaviour in a given context is the only way to understand the user’s actual use of an object and not as the manufacturer initially thought it.

This is why Granstudio teamwork started studying the society to design new cars, intending to switch the UX focus. An illustration of this concept is Komma 2021 (see the figures below): nowadays, cars are far too big for our needs. Innovative mobility design arises from understanding the cars and the traditional vehicles; then, it aims at foreseeing the future of transportation in our society.

Traditional vehicles in a city scenario
Same city scenario but with KOMMA 2021 vehicles

How is the traditional vision of car design evolving and integrating User Experience practice to untangle the project process, components, and potentialities?

The methodologies adopted in car design are almost the same as common UX sectors but in an unconventional field of application and in different extensions and sensibility.

To continuously conceptualise innovation, UX is adopted through research loops to the product style and development.

GranStudio UX research and UI Definition process in three steps:

1. Process ideation: initial research phase where the aim is to understand user’s behaviour, society and the current market. This phase terminates with an introductory definition of the UX of the brand.

2. Brand investigation: understanding the client’s brand identity, values, and desired deliverables.

3. Design and development phase: the UX is defined, and its design usually overlaps with the styling phase. The aim is to merge the UX practice and expertise with the UI aesthetics process to create the physical mock-up that will be further investigated.

The case study RESET 2021 well describes in detail Granstudio UX research method.

Starting from a blank paper, they analysed a vehicle from a UX driven mindset, experimenting with new technologies and tools to deliver new mobility means.

The first step is the investigation of the context, in order to identify the direction to undertake and arrive at a concept for the product project. The data gathered during this research phase are analysed in user journeys to map people’s behaviour and conceive all the possible different use cases of a same object. Users employ the product differently, so it is necessary to find all the numerous configurations of new vehicles: to pinpoint potential interior design, use cases and exteriors. UX is a perfect tool to experiment with new ways of living the car.

Later in the process, a prototype is built through VR and the physical dimension to test the user’s possible interactions with the interior and exterior of the car to experience the look and feel of the product.

The VR and the phygital prototype allow diverse experimentations to envision the possible living space: new shapes, seat positions, creating further interaction among the passengers and driver and the users with the piece of technology.

Watch the entire process described in the keynote.

Next-generation of Automotive UX Designers

Sebastiano Boni, Head of User Experience, Devices & Automotive at Huawei, introduces us to the future of Automotive and the needed figure of designers to create compelling experiences.

The future of cars is the autonomous drive, where there won’t be a driver anymore, just passengers that will enjoy a different driving experience.

The auto won’t be just a means to take us from point A to point B; instead, it will become a new living space.

But, driverless cars are not here yet. This won’t happen very soon because technology is not ready yet to get to that point. Currently, there are six levels of autonomous cars, but the technology available to customers by laws is still reasonably low, between levels 2 and 3. The driver still needs to keep the hands on the wheel and be vigilant; if not the car will force stop.

When discussing technology in autonomous vehicles, it is fundamental to highlight that the car should understand the context of where it is located and what happens around it, through powerful lidar sensors and the adoption of artificial intelligence.

But in this context, what Huawei has to do with automotive cars? Considering that Huawei produces phones, how are they related to the automotive industry?

Huawei is a massive company that provides an ecosystem of high-level technology products, software, and intelligent objects. Indeed, in this innovative scenario, Huawei mission is to bring its digital capabilities and services to every vehicle.

Apple has currently strengthened the relationship between cars and smartphones, releasing AppleCar: a system that allows users to connect their smartphones, mirroring some of the features on their vehicle.

Huawei wants to go beyond connecting the smartphone to the car, and beyond an embedded operating system (still the standard among automotive OEMs). Decoupling the OS from the hardware will unlock many opportunities for designers to imagine new complex scenarios.

Is it possible to let the user have the same applications and interactions on fluid hardware?

Is the car the new smartphone? Not yet. The necessary technology is there, but the experience is not yet. The hard work is on us, UX designers, the challenge and opportunity to design it is ours.

This is a new golden age for designers because there is much work to be done yet. When software takes over means of transport, it creates a lot of complexity but opens up to new interactions in the car. Hence designers must consider many unexplored use cases that did not exist in the past car experience. The driving experience is not focused anymore on what happens while driving. It extends to what happens before, after, and during the driving experience. But, keeping in mind that even if the drivers won’t be driving anymore, they still need to pay attention to the road.

The world is changing rapidly and radically, transforming the relationship between the physical and digital in the automotive industry. The world of technology is waiting for designers to conceive the future and its ecosystem. In a society where everything is connected, there will always be more smart objects than the current single smartphone. Future technology will be created by different fluid platforms able to interact through ecosystem environments.

Watch the video described in the keynote.

These lectures were held during the 26th UX Talk organised for the students of the Master in User Experience Psychology by Politecnico di Milano & Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and of the Higher Education Course in User Experience Design by POLI.design. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook to be updated about the upcoming UX Talks, always open to the public.

Curated by Alice Paracolli

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A polytechnic centre of excellence dedicated to User Experience - by POLIdesign.

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