Enhancing Automotive UX and HMI Design through Digital Transformation

As the automotive industry evolves, digital UX and HMI design are crucial for enhancing the driving experience. Discover how digital innovation and emerging technologies are reshaping the interaction between driver and vehicle.

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The automotive industry has witnessed rapid technological advancements in recent years, transforming cars into increasingly complex machines that demand diverse user interactions. Manufacturers now recognize the pivotal role of user experience (UX) and human-machine interface (HMI) in shaping driver and passenger satisfaction, embracing the crucial role of digital technology in creating seamless and intuitive experiences for users.

Usability, safety, aesthetics, and overall satisfaction are also intrinsic to a superior automotive experience. By prioritizing UX design, manufacturers and OEMs strive to enhance the driving experience and meet the evolving expectations of modern car users. We spoke with automotive and design experts to find out how.

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Curating the In-Vehicle Brand Experience 

Territory Studio, known for designing on-screen futures in films like Bladerunner 2049 and The Martian, works with automotive brands to create those brief but impactful three-to-four-second moments when you first sit inside a vehicle. “Translating those fictional UI concepts into tangible, functional products is a unique challenge,” begins the firm’s UX Director, Anthony Pond.

As the software improved in electric vehicles, car manufacturers realized they had lost some brand connection with the user, ranging from how the key turns in the ignition to the sound of a door shutting. “You can’t just translate those choreographed multi-sensory touch points using the interaction paradigm for phones, laptops, and computers. A car is a different environment,” notes Pond.

Ondřej Velebný, CEO and founder of the HMI design studio Kontrolka, believes car manufacturers have reached the peak of functionality because they are trying to offer too much HMI customization. “They are including unnecessary functions that can clutter the system, reduce functionality, and overwhelm the driver, who just wants a driving experience that’s comfortable, easy, and enjoyable.”

Since the cars on the market were designed three to five years ago, there has been a realization that digital teams must work with internal and external teams earlier in the design process. Pond says, “It’s not about installing more ‘screen real estate’; it's about a fully defined holistic experience and how you integrate the massive digital screen canvases. It is becoming increasingly important from a user, brand, and expectation standpoint.”

Miao Luo, Qt’s Head of Automotive and Design Tools, agrees that designing futuristic UI/UX is impossible without backup from the whole team, especially since achieving the desired outcome relies on software developers. “When creating the visuals to be deployed in the car, you need discipline and collaboration. This way, you will have higher productivity and better opportunities to synchronize efforts without being siloed.”

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Enhancing HMI Design with Emerging Tech

Automotive designers are adopting emerging technologies that revolutionize, enhance, and elevate the user experience. One notable advancement is the integration of 3D design elements, which have the power to captivate users and leave a lasting impression.

According to Velebný, automotive brands are leveraging the potential of 3D graphics to align with their company strategies, whether they aim to create a ‘wow effect’ or embrace a minimalist aesthetic. In addition, incorporating augmented reality capabilities further enhances the 3D experience by providing depth perception and selectively highlighting objects on the windscreen, especially during nighttime, without distracting the driver.

Pond agrees, adding the power and value of real-time 3D graphics goes beyond just menu-driven interfaces. “Car owners want to see their on-screen vehicle looking as perfect as possible. By harnessing the potential of 3D digital twin technology, owners can ensure that the physical car aligns perfectly with their envisioned design.”

Furthermore, Pond envisions real-time 3D graphics revolutionizing utility components like HVAC controls with vent maneuvering visualizations: “It would give users a clear understanding of their actions and reduce the delay between on-screen interactions and real-world responses. This seamless integration of visuals and functionality would empower drivers to have greater control over their vehicle’s environment.”


Balancing Cost and Performance in HMI Hardware

The challenge lies in the nature of automotive-grade embedded hardware, necessitating a balance between cost and performance. Unlike smartphones or PCs with “unlimited” processing power, car hardware must operate within strict cost-effectiveness parameters. This necessitates prioritization and careful consideration by automotive industry players, particularly OEMs.

Luo notes that only some aspects can be fully immersive in 3D yet. He explains that while 3D games, for instance, provide visually captivating and real-time experiences, “there is a disparity in automotive projects. Platform limitations introduce friction between the original concept and its realization.”

As new avenues for improving user-friendliness and a more intuitive driving experience evolve, Velebný urges manufacturers and OEMs to have an experimental mindset, adopt emerging technologies and work with visionary designers and scientists.

He concludes by saying, “This approach will expedite the progress of projects, and it necessitates a departure from traditional corporate culture towards a more innovative mindset. By aligning people's mindsets and fostering momentum, we can drive meaningful change and propel the industry forward.”


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