As you might already know by now, the topic for #MUXL2018 is designing for emerging technologies. In preparation for the event, we have started thinking about how these technologies have made their way into the products we use every day, in our homes and in our cars.

Sam Clark, one of the speakers at MUXL Conference 2018 this November, is the Managing Director of Conjure. For the last 5 years, they have specialised in vehicle UX, an area that has fairly recently started to include digital interactions with the driver. We caught up with him to see what are the challenges in the automotive design sector i.e how do drivers impact UX, how new GUI systems are changing the way interfaces are developed, and if we should worry about our data being accessed by our car, among other topics. Read on to hear what Sam shared with us.

Over the past few years, you’ve had some experience working in automotive and motorcycle HMI design. What would you say is the number one rule when designing for vehicle dashboards ?

Certainly the legibility and clarity of information is our main point of interest. Being able to organise the information required by driver or the passenger at any given time is crucial in creating a useable, enjoyable experience.  

Driving conditions and driving needs can change dramatically. From doing the school run, where GPS and traffic is a primary concern, to racing a performance vehicle on the track, where data such as gear and tyre pressure take precedence.

To that end understanding your user is a crucial in automotive as every other sector.

And what would you say is the most frequent problem you’ve seen across UX design?

There is little in the way of a standard project working practice across car companies. Specifications change constantly. Changes to driving modes or navigation can cause problems when you’re piecing everything together. You’ve extensively tested it and suddenly things change. This can be a nightmare to manage in terms of planning a concise and intuitive UX.

There is also limited UX standardisation. For instance in certain vehicles that include Air Gesture controls, to adjust volume, you hold your finger in the air and move right to left as if you were sliding a volume control. In another vehicles you make a rotation movement with your hand as if turning a dial, almost a skeuomorphic style of UX. The same is true for voice control. Will it be push to talk or always on for certain commands? We’re seeing some interesting differences from different providers in how they approach the interaction with the vehicle.

Speaking of interaction with the vehicle, what would you say is the future of human machine interfaces (HMI)? As drivers have less info, will cars gain more autonomy?

The short answer is: we don’t know.

We could reach a point where there traditional HMI disappears, where’s there’s no dashboard to speak of.

What we can be certain of is the car of the future will make large parts of the journey autonomously, and work rest and play will be the primary activities in the vehicle. The vehicle will talk to your home, your phone, your place of work and the consumer will demand a seamless experience as they transition from travel to destination.

Car companies that crack the services and relevant interaction across their customers connected world will have a big advantage over their competitors.

Do you think legal restrictions will slow down innovation?

I don’t think so. I’m amazed that we’ve had as much opportunity to experiment with Autonomy and in Vehicle Systems as we have to date. For example, in America, there are whole regions where driverless vehicles can be tested. Safety is improving at a surprising rate.

That said all the autonomy so far is still in the testing stage. How the user will interact with it is yet to be seen. First, we have to solve the vehicle driving itself.

There’s little in the way in terms of legal roadblocks slowing down innovation. I think we have quite a lot of a lot of freedom as is.

In terms of data collected, do you think it will be vulnerable? How would we protect ourselves?

Vulnerable? No, but I think there will be virtually no privacy by the time we have vehicles driving us. Our interactions with the vehicles and their interactions with homes and places of work will be monitored to high heaven. Your vehicle will know how many people are in it, your location, your destination and you’ll be sharing this seamlessly with, employers, family, insurance companies and emergency services.  

But I don’t see any reason why your data wouldn’t be safe.

How useful your data will be to criminals is up for debate. The extreme situation will be you get your vehicle hacked and then your UX doesn’t give you any warning. Then someone drives you off the road, but I think that’s a pretty unlikely scenario. The auto manufacturers understand the importance of security if they are to convince the public autonomous and connected cars are the future.

What are you mostly looking forward to at Mobile UX London 2018?

I’m looking forward to meeting like-minded people and to exploring other verticals. I’ve had my head in automotive for some time now. I would like to talk with other people and hear about their UX problems. I love the conversations where you can share great ideas. Plus, it will be great to engage with my peers.

Be one of the designers Sam engages with! Get your ticket to join 250+ UX professionals and attend Sam’s session at Mobile UX London 2018, 20 November, One Park Crescent.