Electric Car Interface
When I interned at IDEO in Munich, I got to work on an exciting vision project. Tasked by a client with designing the entire interface of an electric vehicle, we tackled range anxiety by always relating battery charge to the driver’s itinerary and ability to get home. Speed, consumption, regeneration and coasting are all integrated into a single dial that celebrates the unique experience and joy of driving an electric vehicle.
We interviewed 20 people, both experienced and non-experienced EV drivers. Besides shadowing them in their own electric car, we also did exercises to map out the key moments of the driving experience, as well as drawing their ideal dashboard, and probing their information preferences.
- Range anxiety
With the switch to electric cars comes a fear of ending up stranded on the side of the road, and the unplanned search for a charging spot can be quite an emotional experience. This range anxiety is often exacerbated by the confusion around battery charge. As one driver told us “70% battery? I have no idea what it means or how far I could go.”
- Fascination with efficiency
The drivers we spoke to were generally less excited by the ecological impact of EVs than they were by the highly engaging angle of efficiency. They often challenged themselves to drive more efficiently, spoke emotionally of the ‘silent gliding’ when the car is coasting, or played a game of lifting their foot off the pedal just in time to stop at a red light. “The environmental credibility is nice, but what I love about it is the technology and the efficiency.”
- Higher expectations
People expect electric cars to be smarter than a regular car, whether by location awareness of nearby charging spots, proactive predictions about battery range, or guidance towards more efficient driving. A salient quote we returned to often posited that “An EV should be like an iPod on wheels, rather than a car with an electric motor.”
How Might We?
We emerged from the comprehensive research synthesis with a long list of How Might We’s. It was clear that we needed to address the confusions and fears in the transition from traditional to electric cars. How might we translate battery state and energy consumption into meaningful terms that instilled a sense of confidence and reassurance in drivers?
Beyond bridging the transition, how might we celebrate the uniqueness of an EV and highlight the beauty of efficiency? We wanted to put key moments such as regenerative braking front and center, and build on existing gaming behaviours to give drivers real-time support in their quest of efficient driving.
Finally, how do we package all of this intelligence into a smart interface that does not overwhelm with complexity, but instead shines in its simplicity so as to keep the focus on the road rather than the dashboard?
Following months of research, ideation and prototyping, we came back to the client with a video illustrating 10 key concepts and an immersive prototype for both user testing and demo purposes.
The increased complexity found in car interfaces led us to define a UI system based on time rather than type of content. When driving, the current information is the most relevant, followed by what’s gonna come next and a way to check how well you have done.
As such, we positioned the speed dial and navigation on the main dashboard, the driving guidance on the head-up display, and the peripheral information about charge, consumption and entertainment on the center console to be accessed during standstill.
02. Crafting the Wake Up Moment
What used to be an emotional moment in traditional cars—with the sound and vibration of the engine coming to life—had become a quiet anti-climax in electric cars. The lack of acoustic feedback often left new drivers asking themselves “Is it ready? Can I drive now?”
We decided to craft a ‘wake up’ moment for electric cars by bringing back sound and movement to the experience. Pressing the Start button now leads the direction shifter to physically pop up with a distinct sound and light effect.
03. Energy Sources
An electric vehicle is only as clean as the energy that goes into it, so it was important to give drivers an overview of how the car was charged overnight. A breakdown of the various energy sources that went into charging the car appear on the center console as soon as the car wakes up.
04. Consumption Breakdown
Another source of anxiety for EV drivers stemmed from the confusion around energy consumption. In research, drivers expressed concern about how much energy the AC might be consuming, and whether the car was using any while parked. One of the more experienced drivers described what we’ve come to name the Traffic Light Moment: “When I drive I just need the range information, when I stop I have a look at the energy stats.”
In response, we designed a consumption breakdown for the center console screen that shows the energy distribution of the car over the engine and other functions like the car radio and air conditioning. Because it’s only available while the engine is stopped, we decided to show the average consumption (wide ring) and the real-time consumption (narrow ring) side by side.
05. Human Range
Traditionally, the driving information displayed on the dashboard is very car centric (think of the RPM gauge). But as we learned in research, it’s not about what the car can do, it’s about what the driver can achieve—especially when it comes to range.
We translated battery charge to an estimated range in kilometers, alongside a graph answering drivers’ most important question: will I make it home? When the drivers’ destination (or home) turns out to be outside of range, the UI automatically calculates and adds the charging spot necessary to complete the journey home safely and confidently.
06. Hunch Mode
Hunch mode is taking navigation beyond point-to-point and connecting the driver more closely to their environment. Aggregating data from navigation sources, trip logs and location based content, hunch mode delivers a range of benefits to the driver — from easy destination entry based on past behaviour to simple trip planning, real time route comparison and suggestions of new places to visit based on personal preferences.
Once a specific route is selected, the navigation system provides an overview of recommended charging stops and traffic information if necessary. Charging slots can also be reserved ahead of time.
07. Trip summary
At the end of a trip, an overview highlights the main energy-related facts: consumption, regeneration and freewheeling for the trip. The Efficiency Score compares the driver’s efficiency with the theoretical best performance, based on a consumption model and route data.
08. Emphasize Energy Flow
Independently of their level of technical savviness, the majority of the EV drivers we spoke with put special emphasis on energy and the ‘beauty’ of efficiency.
To celebrate this unique and engaging aspect of driving an electric car, we positioned the ‘ecometer’ squarely in the center of the dashboard alongside a numeric display of the car’s speed. By placing the zero point in the center of the dial, we were able to visually highlight side-by-side both acceleration and regenerative braking, as well as the minimal beauty of silently coasting.
09. Intuitive Driving Guidance
As cars become more complex, drivers need new ways of easily interacting with a wealth of driving information. In fact, drivers we spoke to consider EVs to be smarter than traditional cars, and therefore expected them to make complex decisions easier for the driver.
Building on drivers’ gamified approach to driving more efficiently, we proposed a simple head-up display that combined road information with GPS and other car sensors to help drivers know when to accelerate or slow down for minimal consumption.
The EV experience continues online where drivers can browse information about their last trip and their average Efficiency Score over time. We also included a comparison tool where drivers could input their old (non-EV) car model and revel in the calculated cost savings of driving an EV.