Getting and Keeping Customers

User interfaces: From user demands to digital products

To an ever increasing extent, connectivity is turning vehicles into an environment for living and working in. Communication, information and entertainment are playing a key part for vehicle users, and are becoming an important selling point for the manufacturers. This makes it all the more important for the OEMs to offer their customers the best possible user experience – in other words, interfaces that are not only easy and fun to use but also share the same look and feel across different applications.

Gone are the days when vehicles were selfcontained systems. “OEMs need to open up and also do some rethinking on the development front”, says Dr. Marcus Heinath, head of the HMI and Instrument Cluster department at IAV. “Today, for example, they often still run separate departments for the head units and the apps. But the future belongs to cross-discipline thinking: the designs and concepts behind the purpose intended must be from one and the same mold across different applications.” Besides the controls and display elements in the vehicle, these applications also include apps on mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and wearables, as well as web portals on the Internet. In other words: the entire eco-system of interconnected devices the user is at home in today.

Integrated approach

What’s called for, therefore, is something the experts refer to as “user experience” (UX): user interfaces (HMI) that are easy to use without any major distraction (usability), with a look and feel that are instantly recognizable and give the user added value. Here, it is not only about design but also about contents and services – through to applications that can recognize the driver and hence automatically match up to his or her preferences. Whereas manufacturers used to focus on the technically feasible, they are now in fact tending towards a more integrated approach. “They have realized that intense user experience is capable of keeping existing customers loyal to their car brand or win over new customers for their products”, Heinath comments.

Achieving a high UX involves taking into account the sensory, emotional and reflective responses of users before, while and after they interact with a system. In particular, a key part is played by expectations on the product and brand in terms of aesthetic appeal and perceived value, as well as by the ease of using and understanding them and the benefits they provide. Added to this is previous experience with handling a system or service.

This has implications on developing user interfaces: “For us, this opens up options for tuning the design of graphics and interaction, the way information is structured, the level of complexity as well as function and service configuration”, Heinath says. “Although optimization can, in principle, take place at device level – i.e. in the head unit, the instrument cluster, the smartphone app or the web portal – it is first necessary to develop an overarching vision of interaction design and information architecture that can be broken down to system level and reflect what users want to see.” The aim was to create an end-to-end user experience – not only by minimizing function and media interruptions between systems and ensuring consistency in the displays and controls but also at terminology level.

automotion 1701 12 Benutzerschnittstellen digital 16 9

Analyzing users and usage contexts

In developing HMI solutions of this type, IAV advocates a user-centered design process. The first step is to identify and analyze users and usage contexts. This mainly involves understanding users, their demands and expectations on the systems as well as their usage scenarios. “Based on the findings gathered, we define demands on the HMI from a user perspective and reconcile them with the technological framework conditions”, Heinath explains. “The concepts this produces include an information and navigation structure geared towards the mental model of the user as well as a blueprint for the underlying operating and display philosophy.”

Rapid prototyping is used to produce initial visualizations of user-interface design which IAV’s experts continue to optimize on an iterative basis in the further course of a project. Among other aspects, the prototypes are used for testing the concepts with real-life users. The test persons either come from the customer or are provided by IAV. “We work with external service providers who, for example, let us have test persons with a defined age and experience structure”, Heinath says. “Alongside this, we are currently building up our own pool of test candidates.” Test persons can experience the new user interfaces, for example, on a drive in a vehicle while a camera films their responses for later analysis which is then synchronized with driving and interaction data.

At the moment, Heinath and his team are setting up a new “UX Lab” at IAV which is about to go into operation in 2017. The experts can then work even better on optimizing user experience. “Our UX service portfolio ranges from providing advice and project support to handling turnkey projects and getting results into volume production”, Heinath says, summarizing. “To do this, we draw on an established repertoire of UX methods and use this to address specific project and customer needs.”

Stay up to date

Subscribe to the newsletter