The Keys to the Car Buying Experience

The experience of buying a vehicle is a great example of a decision where you have to weigh up multiple factors at the same time. The two factors that people assume drive decisions are the practical factors like the budget or usage and the extra “nice to have” features. But there’s another group of factors that people consider, even if they don’t always realize. These factors surround how owning the vehicle will make them feel.

“How a vehicle makes you feel” is not just important to enthusiasts.  If it were, every family would buy a minivan and every 9-to-5 commuter would have an econo-box

The minivan story illustrates this well. A minivan was designed in the 1980’s to be a great practical choice for families with children.  They offer space, convenience, and all a family with 2 or more children would need. At first, they were all the rage.  But, as time went on, minivan owners became seen as people who sacrificed “fun” and “performance” for “utility”.  This stigma opened the door for SUVs and Crossovers to come in.

A quote from this article in the Nikkei Asian Review illustrates the SUV promise:  “We designed a model that makes you not only want to go for a drive with family and friends, but also alone.”

The fact is that “thinking from the heart” seems to count almost as much (and sometimes more) than “thinking with the mind”, even in significant purchase decisions. Why then, should these factors be relegated to the back of the mind, or the bottom of the priority list in design decisions?

In our research we see the overall brand experience as an integral part of the model. Utility and usability lie at the core of the experience, while desirability and brand experience lay on top, to create the overall model.

The next question, of course, is how companies can uncover these “back of the mind” or “thinking from the heart” factors. How can you predict these factors, and how can you find out how they stack up against traditional factors that we already know about?

Lextant has created Experience Metrics to answer this question. It helps create a holistic picture of a product, from utility and usability, right up to the brand experience. Not only does it show you the factors affecting the usability of the product, but it also shows the “emotional” factors that are tied to the product and lets you track how their relative importance changes over time.

Manufacturers get a clear picture of how their designs stack up against all the factors that drive decisions.  The results are proving powerful.

To find out more about more about how metrics can help transform the user experience, click on the link below.

In Celebration of the Pop Socket

As long as there have been phones, there have been ways to customize and personalize them. Lanyards, stickers, phone cases, and so on. Now there is a new addition to the long list of phone gear – the “Pop Socket”.

I’m usually skeptical of phone accessories.  I mean, nobody ever benefited from a flip case unless of course you think that it’s cool to flip open a case every time you want to take an incoming phone call!

The Pop Socket though is different.  It is a great example of how “affordances” can be used to augment the user experience.

Affordances is a word we use a lot in Design Research.  The Interaction Design Foundation explains the concept well:  “Affordances are an object’s properties that show the possible actions users can take with it, thereby suggesting how they may interact with that object.”

We learn about the difference between adding an affordance and making an existing affordance clearer to the user. For example, adding text that says “click here” to a previously un-labeled button is making an affordance clearer.  The button already afforded clicking.

The Pop Socket is an affordance that actually augments the experience:

  • First, making the phone easier to hold which is particularly good for larger phones
  • Second, allowing the user to prop the phone up on the table for easy viewing and;
  • Third, adding a layer of customization with colorful decals or unique patterns.

So here’s to the Pop Socket.  An accessory that adds value.

The Tesla-ification of the Spirited Driving Experience

I’ve been obsessed with the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ for years. To me, they embody Toyota and Subaru’s commitment to the purebred concept of the roadster, with front engine, rear wheel drive, and playful handling as the most important aspects of the design. This design philosophy translates into a bare-bones, functional interior with minimal creature comforts and simple hard controls for climate and media.

Another positive for car enthusiasts is that the vehicle lends itself well to modifications—Toyota and Subaru knew their target audience would be car enthusiasts who’d love to tinker with their vehicle, and made it easy for them to access the mechanical and electronic parts of the vehicle. And tinker they did—a simple web search will yield hundreds of different possibilities, from headlights/tail lights to exhaust to wheels, even swapping out the engine!

One surprising modification I came across was a new(ish) touchscreen head unit for the Subaru BRZ aptly named “Brainiac,” that combines the media and climate controls into one sleek-looking touchscreen interface.

The “Brainiac” piqued my interest because we spend a lot of time at Lextant discussing how perceptions of a vehicle’s “coolness” or “futuristic quality” ends up being translated into “less buttons and knobs”; more specifically into “like the Tesla with it’s big touchscreen that has everything on it.”

As Human Factors Researchers, we know that the trade-off of this “Tesla-ification” is that you lose the immediacy of access that buttons and knobs provide. To put it simply, hard controls like buttons and knobs may appear to be “old school” and “clunky,” but you don’t have to look at them to operate them, which lets you pay attention to the road.

Paying attention to the road is an important aspect of the spirited driving experience: cutting through canyons and navigating hairpin turns. Knowing how much grip you have through the tires because of how low you are to the ground. I wondered how the community would react.

What I found was a split. Some passionate drivers, like Reddit user TurbochargedSquirrel, shared my view:

Others seemed open to the idea of a touchscreen interface just to add a bit more flair to their vehicles.

This split is something we’ve seen in our research for a while now—people who prefer simplicity and want to focus on the driving primarily, and those who want all the bells and whistles that modern technology has to offer. My reservations with replacing traditional controls with touchscreen interfaces remain, but to the credit of the developers of Brainiac, they have added touch gestures to their interface to allow the user to perform actions without having to look.

So what’s the best of both worlds? Is there a way to maintain the spirit of driving intact while also moving away from old fashioned controls? Designer Kasper Kessels’ concept might provide the answer. With help from the design department at Renault, he created a concept for incorporating touch gestures into a vehicle’s infotainment that aims to solve the issue of the visual component that touch gestures tend to lack.

In the end, I’d like to pose the question to you—what do you think about the move towards “Tesla-ifying” in-vehicle infotainment systems? Are we attempting to fix something that’s not broken? Is there a way to create an interface that caters to both spirited drivers as well as technophiles?

We’d love to know what you think.