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How to define engaging experiences in self-driving cars

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to disrupt everything we know about driving. Earlier this year, I attended a panel discussion regarding the advancements in autonomous driving at the 2017 Consumer and Electronics Show (CES). One conclusion from this session was that it is no longer a question of “if”, but “when” autonomous vehicles will become part of our lives.

A blank canvas for auto manufacturers

With no need for a steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedals, the interior of a car becomes a blank canvas. So, how will companies shape this canvas while keeping the user at the forefront?

For example, if a passenger wanted to work on their commute, a car could be customized into an office space with a desk and internet connection. Prefer to relax and recharge after a long day? A car could offer features like a massage chair or a big screen TV. And, in the case of ridesharing, a different car could be called up to fit the user’s mood. The car has the potential to become a “third-space”, a space to be used for more than a way to get to where you are going.

Understanding the types of experiences consumers want

There are several methods designers and user researchers have in their toolbox to help manufacturers understand what types of experiences consumers will want from autonomous vehicles.

Ethnographic interviews and drive-alongs help us better understand the current driving experience: what driving and controlling one’s car means to people, the pleasures they enjoy, the stressors they want to get rid of.

But ethnography involves observing what people actually do. We cannot directly observe autonomous driving (yet), so we must also employ more future-focused methods.

Design exercises can be conducted during the interviews to draw out what autonomous driving might look like on family vacations, weekend errands and the morning commute.

Finally, we can conduct co-creation sessions in which participants reveal their latent wants and needs for autonomous driving by actually creating an autonomous car interior.

Standing apart as the landscape evolves

As the autonomous vehicle landscape evolves, manufacturers who are able to create truly exceptional in-car experiences will stand apart. The first step to delivering exceptional consumer experiences is understanding what consumers expect and need – and how they should be delivered. The question is, which auto manufacturer will be the first to get it right?

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