Questioning Assumptions

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Updated October 11, 2023
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When you’re going deep on the design exercise, it helps to periodically step back and remind yourself about the problem you’re trying to solve. In my case the prompt was asking for an in-car UI design for a self-driving car. I decided to take a slightly different approach because many car manufacturers have been addressing this problem for decades. Redesigning the car display would be optimizing for local maxima prematurely.

Figure: Interior Display vs Exterior

Manufacturers have spent their attention on the interior display taking eyes away from the road.

What if we could expand the display from a small tablet to include the windshield? And what if the car was smart enough to capture inputs from the outside world and provide contextual info. Technology without an explicit need is like a solution looking for a problem. As designers, it’s our responsibility to take technology’s raw potential, intersect it with customer needs, and build a solution that drives results for the business.

Augmented reality (AR) is a potential solution, but it can also get out of hand. As designer Keiichi Matsuda shows in his explorations, an AR that bombards a city resident with visual noise promotes anxiety. I included this in my presentation as an extreme example to steer away from.

I also considered voice assistants. After all, even Ironman’s advanced AR suit still had an omnipresent assistant. To see how these technologies could work (or collide) together in the customer’s space when they’re taking transportation, I started doing some light synthesis with some simplified diagramming.

Figure: Start Synthesizing Your Findings

Simple diagrams to start synthesizing and modeling how various trends come together.

This led me to a few core principles to evaluate my work against:

  • Personalized. The assistant should deeply understand the person(s) in the car.

  • Unobtrusive. The technology should let the customer be in the driver’s seat.

  • Context aware. It should provide relevant suggestions based on context and customers’ interests.

Although I didn’t explicitly mention these anywhere in my presentation, having these explicitly documented held me accountable by enforcing constraints, which led to a streamlined concept.

Exploring Solutions with Storyboards

With problem discovery done, I did some rough explorations via storyboard sketches showing how a car interior could transform to a suitable activity from an interactive gym inside a car, to a productivity station, to an experience that connects two strangers by showing activities and people they have in common.

Figure: Bringing People Together

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