Written By
Max Brown

05.10.16

The Next UI/UX Frontier: Automotive

When I first joined Tesla Motors in 2010 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to recruit for the design and engineering leaders that would ultimately be responsible for the Model S.  It was an amazing experience on many levels, but one of the first things I remember about the early design concept was just how cool that 17″ touchscreen looked.  I remember thinking that technology like that was sure to be the new standard for the automotive user interface in a few years.

Three years later, MotorTrend named the Model S it’s 2013 Car of the Year and specifically praised the UI, saying:

“…all judges were impressed with the Tesla’s unique user interface, courtesy of the giant touch screen in the center of the car that controls everything from the air-conditioning to the nav system to the sound system to the car’s steering, suspension, and brake regeneration settings. The system means the Model S interior is virtually button-free, and the car has been effectively future-proofed: More functionality is only a software update away.”

So why is it that when I recently found myself in the market for a new car, I still found myself consistently sifting through nested menus using physical buttons?

The answer to that question obviously has many parts:  the slow pace of change in the automotive industry, the lack of incentive for large companies to take risks with flagship models, etc.  But one result that has been especially interesting in my world as a headhunter is that there is now a huge demand for talented designers that can help companies bridge the gap in user experience between the web/mobile world and the automotive space.  Even more interesting, the demand isn’t unique to new startups; large, existing OEMs have now realized that value as well.

Of course, it’s not easy.  The task to take core concepts and strategies developed for completely different technology and applications, then adapt them to the user experience in a vehicle is a huge challenge even before taking driver safety into consideration.  Add in integration with the next generation of connected vehicle and autonomous driving technology being developed and what you have is a very small and fast moving target.

But of course, that’s what innovators are always looking for, isn’t it?