In-Vehicle Systems Exploration with Toyota

In-Vehicle Systems Exploration with Toyota

In the collaboration between Intel and Toyota, we explored appropriate methods of providing information to drivers through in-vehicle systems, as well as information technologies that would enable seamless communication between on-board information systems and nearby information systems.  Our task was to define next-generation in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems that will enable new usage models for mobile device connectivity in the car.  The concept we designed together is called concierge.

Role:  Lead UX Researcher, Interaction Designer.
Research Tools: low to medium fidelity prototype evaluation, as well as wizard of oz, think out loud, diaries studies, interviews, and co-design activities.
Interaction Design Tools: Sketching, OmniGraffle.
Responsibilities: Lead and conduct all UX research.  Overall design support by incorporating research findings, creating IXD assets and enabling visual and industrial designers.


The amount of information exchanged between cars and drivers is expected to increase due to expanding demand for traffic information, destination searches, radar cruise control and other driving support functions. For that reason, together with Toyota we conducted research on vehicle-driver interfaces that do not interfere with driving.  The concept explored was called Concierge.  Concierge aimed at achieving  “kiga-kiku” by anticipating the driver’s unexpressed needs and taking steps to meet them based on three key principles:

  1. Enable me to do new things
  2. Make it easier for me to accomplish my goals
  3. Make my experience more enjoyable

Interaction Design

Through concept testing and several design explorations, we came up with the following list of features:

  • Remembers individual driver preferences and prior driving experiences.
  • Is aware of the current situation (such as location, driver’s calendar appointments, current traffic, and driver’s state of mind.)
  • Interprets situation and relevant information to determine appropriate responses.
  • Surfaces information at appropriate times, in appropriate manners
  • Carefully handles and manages personal data

The use cases we decided to build included:

  • Transitions information seamlessly between device and IVI, inside and outside of the vehicle
  • Proactively suggests departure time based on traffic conditions
  • Suggests navigation destination based on calendar and time of day
  • Simplifies trip sharing with additional meeting attendees based on calendar invitation
  • Warns of potential failures in plans due to traffic and provides alternative suggestions and actions

To explore and present the concept we built three different components:

1.  The center console: included a touch interface and a “familiar” IXD paradigm called “activity feed” rather than discrete buttons.  This was tested for familiarity as well as expected cognitive load while driving.

Center Console

2. The phone: as a key to start the car, and get personalized information as well as a continuum of the experience.  Communication through NFC.

Phone Concept

  • Downloadable through Android Marketplace
  • Integrates seamlessly with In Car Concierge
  • Leverages: Google Maps & Google Calendar
  • Designed to: Anticipate Journeys & Anticipate Needs
  • Present Information according to different levels of confidence





3.  Steering Wheel:  what if we could remove buttons and create a simpler way to interact with the system by using touch gestures?  We 3-D printed a wheel and used touch sensors to quickly prototype the concept and test it.


Finally, the experience was presented in a tabletop “buck” that enabled us to conduct user research as well as tell the story:


UX Research

I led all the user research efforts of the collaboration ensuring that “real” drivers were involved in all the phases of the design cycle.   Over 8 months, I conducted research on different topics that kept informing the design team as well as validation.  Methods included low to medium fidelity prototype evaluation, as well as wizard of oz, think out loud, diaries studies, interviews, and as co-design activities.  I conducted research not only in the US but also in Japan to try to understand the cultural factors that our designs had to be sensitive to, in order to ensure a positive experience in both regions of interest to Toyota. (I also got really cool tours while on site, so that was a big bonus!) A major challenge was to tailor qualitative research methods specifically for the car.  Although there are some readily available, I had to work iteratively to make sure the methods were appropriate for the context, the different fidelities of the prototypes and the data that the team needed along the way.

UX Research

In addition, I had the opportunity to lead informative as well as hand-on sessions with the Toyota team to provide insights on how user research is conducted and the value of the user centric design approach.  I created role-play activities and presented extensively on the methods as to convey the importance of our work as well as the impact it has when designing new solutions.  The Toyota team members also participated in some of the analysis and report out sessions.  Getting them involved in such activities will have a profound impact in the way they think about product development.

Report out: Creating Vehicle Experience Journeys

This project had many components and dimensions to consider such context,  location (inside of car, approaching the car, as well as where in the car), available resources, channels of communication, input choices, etc.  Also, at a certain point I started collecting all kinds of data from all the qualitative and quantitative research I’ve been conducting while leading all the design research efforts that I needed a way to communicate it accordingly.

To be able to incorporate all those findings and make them actionable as well as providing a good visual indication of all the dimensions, I started playing around with creating Experience Journeys.  Since I didn’t have experience building them, I followed the advise of fellow design researchers from great places such as adaptive path.  The journeys provided a visual and tangible way of organizing information and creating empathy from the team and proved to be very successful methods of communication.  One of the challenges of creating them is that they do take a significant amount of time to craft, organize and put together.  Also, visual design skills need to be brushed up to ensure the journeys can stand on their own.  Still, I will continue using this technique in future projects when possible.


Final Thoughts

Collaborating with the major car manufacturer of the world was incredibly insightful.  I came out with a bigger appreciation of the complexities of the industry, a huge admiration for Toyota as well as an enormous satisfaction being able to transfer knowledge and enthusiasm on the importance of conducting user research.  Not to mention a super cool concept that perhaps you will see in Toyotas’ driving around in a few years.

At Toyota

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