Reimagining Ford’s Control & Infotainment Experiences

Franchise-defining F-150 truck and SUV fleets level-up their driver information display systems.

The emotional attachment between owners and their trucks is profound. Essential for getting work done and keeping play fun, truck owners expect their vehicle to handle anything they throw at it. They become an extension of the owner’s personality and an expression of their lifestyle.

Truck and SUV brands generally rely on raw expressions of performance, power, and reliability, to bolster their “hard working” resume. Then they celebrate comfort, style, and safety features to burnish their creature comforts. More recently, the experience that these vehicles provide through their infotainment and control systems has emerged as a way for brands to create preference and build loyalty.

Display systems offer distinct opportunities to empower truck owners. Ford saw this potential and set out to define a new design approach for instrument clusters in its truck and SUV models. The transformation marked a formal shift by Ford to all digital vehicle displays, prompting fundamental questions about the evolving role of displays among their truck and SUV owner base.

Setting the course for an ideal truck and SUV information & control experience.

Ford engaged Lextant to help it uncover the key emotional drivers behind the ideal display and control and display experience for truck and SUV owners. Using the Lextant “desired consumer experience” methodology, consumers were given the tools and the context they needed to describe and visualize their expectations for a more satisfying offer.

Lextant captured these desires in an experiential model where the voice of the Ford customer was expressed through a finite set of sensory cues aligned with their conception of an ideal instrument cluster solution. It put Ford designers in the driver seat.

The Ford team applied the model to the design of prototypes for new infotainment and control cluster concepts. They had two goals: explore new ease-of use-solutions and move away from the skeuomorphic design choices found in automotive designs today.

This design approach, where icons and buttons visually resemble their real-world counterparts, can be reassuring in categories where interactions are new to consumers. But in the fast-moving world of consumer media, show and tell icons no longer felt appropriate for experience intended for these Ford flagship vehicles.

An ‘ideal experience’ model gives designers the latitude to go further faster.

The move away from skeuomorphic UI choices marked a dramatic shift for Ford. Consequently, they needed to ensure that new owners would not just accept this new display convention but also prefer it and love it.

To keep concepts aligned with the “ideal” learning, Ford’s design team leveraged Lextant’s Experience Metrics to craft prototypes for testing. The process includes tools for capturing consumer reactions in ways that deepened learning about the rationale for preferences and allowed related concepts to be more easily compared.

The team tested a suite of design studies against these metrics over research iterations where Experience Metric insights guided refinements. The process helped the team more closely align design choices with truck owner needs, while identifying novel display configurations that could differentiate Ford in this market.

The 2021 models for two Ford flagship brands debut a new, modern UI.

New Ford F-150 and Bronco models featuring control and display clusters based on the Lextant research arrived in the market in early 2021. A completely re-imagined vehicle display experience awaits truck and SUV enthusiasts.

New display conventions make essential information easier to access, read, and navigate. As the user moves between interaction modes, core information about an activity stays in the same position. Requests to refine a choice don’t introduce additional screens, new content comes to you.

The re-imagined user experience offers a new, modern interaction style for familiar driver content. By streamlining the way the data is displayed and choices are guided it offers a safer and more satisfying experience for Ford truck and SUV owners.