Last August, I attended a UFC event at the Staples Center (No! Not this one). Months prior, the UFC had hired our design firm as their UX design partner. While at the event, I went to use the bathroom backstage. A security person directed me towards a small, scruffy hallway, where it seemed there was one person ahead of me.
Me: “Is this the queue for the bathroom?”
Elon Musk: “Yes it is.”
Me: “I have a Model X…love it”
Elon Musk: “Oh awesome, glad you like it”
And then it came. The defining Jerry Maguire moment. The “you had me at hello” line.
Me: “Well… out of 10… it’s a 3.”
Elon Musk: “Really. Why?”
Elon was hands-on in designing the existing UI/UX along with another amazing mind at Tesla, Chief Design Officer, Franz von Holzhausen. Engaged in a deep exchange of the human-vehicle experience, we didn’t care when the bathroom became free. Musk was determined to listen and respond to feedback as if everything depended on it. It was a surreal moment.
The Tesla UX experience has always been remarkable, especially in comparison to everything else out there. However, as an industry, I feel we’re just cracking the surface. I shared my critique, my ideas for improvement, my vision with Elon — all in the hallway bathroom queue — and they resonated.
We then exchanged contact info went back to watch the fights, met up again and later onto email exchanges into the early hours.
As a next step, Elon asked I come and present at Tesla Design HQ. We had 5 days to put together what I mouthed.
On day 5, we had 46 ideas ready to discuss. The following is some of what I and my colleague at Fantasy, Russell Hampton presented:
Starting with a UX Masterplan
Tesla has created the #1 car experience on the planet, one that every car manufacturer drools over. It’s one task finding individual improvements to make. The true starting point for Tesla is to adopt a UX Masterplan (which almost NO major company today has). This would anchor all thinking to replace the “laser-like-focus” that drives current UI with knitting together all interactions to build user confidence.
We focused on 3 key areas to filter and funnel the hundreds of ideas our team generated: inside, outside and connected.
Inside The Vehicle: Idea #1
Our first chapter opened with a glance at the UI. That’s a lot of UI elements (particularly at the bottom) to connect with your eyes and your finger — especially with one hand on the wheel. What if we could simplify? We did.
A key element that would help navigate more effortlessly was the gesture of swiping versus “point — touch- select” — turning three actions into one. Here’s how it would work:
With a two-finger swipe from anywhere at the top or bottom, you don’t need to laser-focus on the display to access its main features.
In any vehicle, electric or gas, climate control is a heavily utilized feature. But on a touch screen, while moving or driving, the time and skill required to position your finger in the air for multiple taps are demanding. Our solution was to use the screen itself to rest the finger while dragging to change temp and flow. No laser-focus required.
We then implemented the temp change into the master cluster to reflect the interaction from idea 6.
And this is how the HVAC implementation looked like in the Model 3.
Even big, fat hands will find it easier to swipe, than laser-focus on another screen while driving.
One of the most awkward screens at the time (it has since been updated) was lights and HVAC control. We combined them together as they are two of the primary interactive functions of a vehicle.
Getting to the main features required a touch of the screen, a point, and another touch. We proposed using gestures to access universal navigation.
Less critical UI improvement — such as not covering up the backup cameras while they are in use when you would like to use another feature.
A major feature request, implementing Spotify and Netflix. (Coincidentally, both clients of ours.)
Some Tesla drivers, purposely seek out untraveled roads to help map the car’s systems to that road. Those that never or rarely get auto-pilot prompts may get free supercharging credit.
Supercharging rates are different pending on your vehicles battery temp, the station’s load and numerous other factors. We believe the UI can do more to help educate the user on how it works and what to expect.
At popular supercharging stations, there are queues. Spots robbed. Anxiety. A golden opportunity for the UI within the vehicle to manage the whole process, worry-free for our customers.
Let’s cure “range anxiety.” Range data is inaccurate in general on all vehicles — and even more so with electric vehicles, which are far more susceptible to gaining and losing range through acceleration, braking, uphill, downhill. The Tesla drivers’ expectations on data are also far higher. UI can play a core role in reducing range anxiety.
Onboarding users into a smart vehicle is absolutely imperative for any experience. Younger tech-savvy early adopters handle it fine, but Mom & Dad? Nope! The intimidation factor is real and a deterrent for buyers that can purchase premium vehicles.
Designing browsers for Google and Huawei, we feel compelled to bring a better browsing and data experience to the vehicle.
One of the monumental areas for development is the human experience for passengers — similar to areas where we’ve worked closely with aviation manufacturers and Faraday Future. With the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles, you won’t just choose a vehicle on how it performs: new considerations will include how it accommodates you on overnight journeys, gets you home when you’re over the limit, and works for you when you sleep.
Hand gesture and eye control, in particular, will decrease the level of effort at crucial moments.
Borrowing from aviation, augmented reality experiences will also find success in our cars and trucks. A true HUD experience is using the full windshield to bring gigantic shifts to the vehicle experience for the driver and its passengers. The technology, however, is expensive and currently unfeasible. If there is one person and company that has defied “unfeasible”…
Like the toilet we use every day, the steering wheel hasn’t changed much. But what if we made the wheel smarter? Build-in biometric data input for the vehicle to react to. Add UI and smart interactive touchpoints. Let’s go beyond a volume toggle.
Understanding energy within a Tesla vehicle is…well, it’s pretty tough for your average driver. Let’s make it Fisher Price easy.
While the roots of Tesla are based in science, we presented the idea of how the UI can make “saving the planet” a little more human.
There is beauty to Tesla’s simplicity and how their tech looks & feels. We presented the idea of being more playful specifically in certain driving modes.
This was a no brainer…
Outside The Vehicle: Idea #39
There are a few circumstances where the tech outside the vehicle could combine with UI to enhance the experience. First, we thought about our mirrors.
Next, thinking about the roads themselves. A lot of fun to be had with those that would turn up to Teslacon.
This feature has since been launched.
The charge port currently relies on light. It’s only semi-understandable, and only when it works. UI would help those who have difficulty. Especially those trying to put gas in the car.
Connected To The Vehicle: Idea #43
Imagine sending your vehicle to work for you in the rental pool or to pick up your parents from the airport.
Particularly in hot/cold climates, the vehicle could be better aware. When you are wrapping up your 1pm lunch appointment or leaving the office every day at 5.
Tesla is based on a very noble mission. With the addition of power walls to the product offering, we positioned the ideas to donate power if you had ample.
The Tesla app is not at the same level as the car. It works. That’s it. We recently designed a connected app for upcoming Mitsubishi vehicles which we believe surpasses the Tesla experience.
And there you have it, our initial response to meeting Elon Musk, 5 days previous.
Fantasy is a small company that seizes opportunities like this to give it everything. It’s how we have thrived for 20 years. There are moments in our history working directly with the CEO of Google or Huawei where we know it’s a unique moment, and we have a small window to make an impact.
Seize every opportunity that comes your way, they are rare. And never settle, even when you’re an industry leader.
The majority of folks at Fantasy had never driven an electric vehicle. I was the only one who had driven a Tesla. But this doesn’t slow us down. From day one, we worked passionately to turn this around this fast. Sharing videos of the Model X driving experience. Learning a system most had never used. Adapting and shaping a vision for a company like Tesla that sets the bar for human-vehicle experience, and is respected worldwide for their design and engineering.
Meeting Elon and the days that followed were by far some of the most memorable and intense. He is what you would hope him to be in person: a universe-given genius. (Just don’t do the selfie thing or present your ideas in a ramble.)
I am a car enthusiast. My first was a Mercedes S550 4 Matic I bought in 2007. We drove our clients around NYC in it and got them excited about its tech. We still have it today. It was a car that broke many molds raised the bar, high, very high, we can thank Gorden Wagner for that and for turning Mercedes around.
I bought a Model X for 4 reasons. The tech, the look, the safety, and the performance. Without question, it is one of the best cars I have ever driven and experienced. The view from the cockpit is unlike any other. It’s a car that when you drive another car you feel you are getting into something 10 years older.
But as I told Elon, it’s a 3 out of 10. And when he asked me “Why?”… I told him:
“You have done an exemplary job. It’s not you that is a 3/10, it’s where we are right now. It’s how much farther we have to go as an industry, to deliver a human experience. It could take years to get there; I believe we can get there faster.”
Something, that Elon, Franz, and Tesla dramatically sped up for the rest of us.
Oh and we resonated.
Different bathroom queue, another story…
Founded in 1999, we are a human-centric design firm shipping icon products and experiences for 20 years. Some of our clients include Netflix to Spotify, Ford to Bell, Google to Huawei.