In 2019 I was asked to support our team in California. A client wanted to relaunch its brand with a new fleet of luxury electric vehicles. My job was to create the rough concept of the onboard system and showcase them with prototypes. I had no clue of the issues I would be facing…

The client had a heritage which he was proud of and bought top design and management talents from big players all over the world. 

But still, there was an old league of engineers, creatives, and CTOs who were convinced that processes and systems from 15 years ago will do just fine, as they did before. (which they didn’t)

So, my job was not only to create and visualize a new system. It was also necessary to identify, analyze and break those old perceptions and habits. 

One of the biggest issue was the remote interaction of the system. The interior designers visioned elegant control elements, smoothly laid into the curves of the seats and console. A system that premium OEMs introduced two decades ago and became a standard for low-complex systems like automotive HMIs. But our system had different requirements. Future readiness means being prepared for unknown content and unknown complexity. The business model will only succeed if third parties can participate in the experience.

Acknowledging the disruptive trends

The driving motor of technologies and service design is the mobile device sector. This is where new innovations are distributed and validated. Therefore the requirements of the mobile world will be crucial to the client’s business plan.

Highlighting the pain points

The main issue with remote interaction is A the abstraction and B the limitation in selection. Most systems rely on UP/DOWN, LEFT/RIGHT movement, with a CONFIRMATION and mostly accompanied by additional interactions.

But not only is it more and more becoming unintuitive to not interact with the content directly. It is also limiting the possibilities and stretches interaction flows into endless repetitive actions. “RIGHT, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, SELECT.”

This is something many of the client’s employees did not understand at first as they were stuck in the experience of established systems. Endless discussions were always filled with, “but it works on my TV?!”

Little strokes fell big oaks

I knew we had to go this way as there were no real arguments against it. The resistance was solely based on limited imagination and fixation on an old idea. So I tried showcasing the experience and challenged the client’s employee to a little gamble about today’s lunch. The challenge: Selecting a movie on Netflix. They were selecting two movies, using an Amazon Firestick remote, while I was selecting five movies using a smartphone. Needless to say that a free meal never tasted this good, as it was sprinkled with sweet victory.

This was only a small step. But I felt that people started to open up. The next step was to simply put it to paper. A little presentation showing all the different possible input modalities, trackpad, arrow keys, joysticks, rotary controllers, hard buttons, and touch screens. Describing their advantages and disadvantages and comparing them in a diagram by convenience and capability to support complex systems.

And suddenly the client agreed – no further word was needed. I asked myself if my life would have been easier if I would have held that little presentation sooner. And the answer is no. There was no new information in it, and I was only stating the obvious. The issue was that client had a state of mind and was not willing yet to trust me/us to overrule his gut feeling. So in the end it was persistence and approaching from different angles that made the change.