July 21, 2021
This post was originally published on June 16th on Mindspark's Greenbook Channel, The UX Factor.
At this very moment, if you were to step into a vehicle made in 2021 and pay attention to the interior dash designs, technologies, and interfaces, there is no doubt that you would notice a remarkable difference between that car, and say, the 2012 model of the same vehicle. If that comes as a surprise to you, there is a good chance that you live in a dark hole in the middle of nowhere – okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh.
The truth is, if you don’t recognize these remarkable upgrades, it is not because you don’t own a brand-new car, but mostly because you may not have realized that – like anything else we see in today’s world – technology, and modernized design have impacted cars as much as any other material good.
The real truth is, UX and UI design have made these upgrades possible, making significant contributions to the automotive industry as a whole. Yet, somehow, it’s easy to forget just how intertwined UX/UI and automobiles are. To shed some light on this, included below are just some of the areas in which user design and interfacing have helped enhance our modern driving experience. To start with, here’s an example of a 2014 Kia Sorento (left) and a 2021 model. The look and feel of these two versions of the same model just 7 years apart are very distinct.
The integration of safety and software into vehicles allows drivers to not only mimic their smartphone data directly into their driving experience (ie. Car Play), but also protects drivers from common errors and mishaps. Features such as indicator lights on side-view mirrors allow us to recognize a vehicle passing in our blind spots, while also alerting us if vehicles are too close to our front or rear bumpers. In some cases, cars will auto-correct your driving through Lane Assist, preventing you from veering too far out of a lane.
When surrounded by such unique tools, it’s so easy to forget that UX design was the primary component in creating these indicators and new software capabilities, though, in reality, they were created as a response to consumer demand, solving common driving problems in an effort to truly create a more well-rounded, worry-free driving experience. Even the introduction of voice commands, allowing a user to change songs or text a colleague without ever taking their eyes off the road is a prime example of how technology and UX design have contributed to the automotive sector.
When it comes to our possessions, nothing screams user experience more than the ability to customize and personalize how we interact with our products. With vehicles, we see these capabilities growing year after year allowing drivers to cater to their specific needs and preferences. The digitalization inside a vehicle allows the driver to completely program the color of the vehicles’ interior lighting or even project the speedometer from the dashboard onto the bottom of the windshield. Other luxuries include rearview mirrors equipped with cameras that allow you to see the entire road behind you, and we must not forget about the revolutionary backup camera, which has probably saved thousands in damaged bumpers and public property.
When it comes to personalized preferences, we have to also keep in mind that the beloved act of parallel parking now requires the least amount of effort possible, where a driver simply finds a space they want to park, pushes a lever on the steering wheel, and lets the vehicle park itself and take all the risk – talk about luxury! Again, these features you now have on your vehicle did not just appear, they were highly sought after by the user, and those who manufacture vehicles used this feedback to solve problems and improve your experiences.
The parallel park assist is a prime example of responding to consumer needs if we consider that, in a recent poll, 15% of motorists in the UK said that parallel parking creates anxiety, while 47% of drivers admitted to giving up on a parallel park. 1 in 4 also admitted to having to let someone else finish the parking procedure for them. Without question, a vehicle that can complete such a task caters to the needs of a driver, a true UX design.
In modern times, the average consumer is provided access to some of the best user interfaces and experiences in the industry. Sitting in a car can feel similar to sitting in a cockpit, with dashboards and head-ups displays equipped with what seems to be a Smart TV, allowing a driver to turn their speedometer to scenic views, and split-screen their own dashboard units to showcase the local weather, the GPS routing, the musical information of the artists being played through the stereo, and the tire pressure of the vehicle – available all in one glance.
Displays can even include a birds-eye view of the vehicle, allowing you to directly observe the objects, vehicles, or people who are near or around your car. At the same time, touch screen and voice command allows for easy access to both car infotainment and entertainment. It should be recognized that the enhancements to entertainment and infotainment also create complexities, though this is exactly what drives UX and UI enthusiasts to compact them all together into intuitive processes and operations. As such, we, as users, can anticipate more intriguing features, designs, and customizations via UX research in the years to come!
When reflecting on what truly stands out in today’s market, specifically in relation to technology and UX integration within vehicles, it is easy to recognize Tesla as the almighty leader. In some sense, Tesla has established itself as the benchmark for modernized driving, both in relation to technology and UX design, but even more so in their progressive approach for self-driving software and harm-prevention programming, which inevitably has set up a new area for UX designers and developers to explore and expand upon. This begs the question, where to next after this? From automated driving to customization and hands-free parking, what else could a driver possibly look for in a car, say, 10 years from now? Undoubtedly, we can’t be sure, but one thing is certain: as long as there are drivers (users), there will always be needs. And wherever there is user need, there is UX design, waiting to make our lives even just a little bit better.