Volvo Cars — a UX case study

Jon Marshall
Sep 5 · 8 min read

Introduction

I was hired by AKQA as a senior UX architect in mid 2017 to work on-site at Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden. I was tasked with the following:

  • Suggest ways of improving the information architecture of Volvo’s website
  • Design features and deliver a new car configurator across 50 markets
  • Help create the world’s first car subscription service: ‘Care by Volvo’
  • Plan innovative experiences across three brand pillars: safety, convenience and sustainability.

Improving IA

One of the first things I undertook was an assessment of all of the common components across volvocars.com. My ambition was to help empower product teams to collaborate more effectively and avoid a ‘pass the baton’ approach to improving user experience.

I started to highlight whenever a signpost, or piece of copy was inconsistent. I also championed consistent interaction models so that our users had far less to learn on each page. We started to share copy/signposts and started standardising components across different product teams.

Navigation

Next I accessed Google Analytics to undertake a thorough navigation analysis across four key markets. Each market had unique strengths and weaknesses, but the common finding was low engagement with the primary navigation. Sometimes this was as low as 1 interaction in 15 sessions (for mobile).

My hypotheses were as follows:

  • The navigation was too abstract with no obvious mental model
  • The navigation was difficult to reach on mobile devices.

Instead of using the navigation, many users were clicking on-page components down to a tertiary page before abandoning. Worryingly: the tertiary page content didn’t usually align with what users had told us was their motivation for visiting the site (sourced via on-page surveying).

I validated that the navigation could be improved by head-to-head tree testing the originals against some user-centric alternatives. The new navigation copy and structure was much more successful:

After further tests, I changed the structure of the menu by emulating the mental model of an average customer’s purchasing journey. This enabled users to orientate more quickly and improved accuracy for the parent items:

Next, I validated that the navigation was difficult to reach on mobile devices by comparing GA data for smaller and larger-screened mobile devices. You could see the problem amplified for larger mobile devices (when thumb reach becomes more of a problem).

I proposed an alternative navigation for mobile that used a tab bar at the base of the screen. I ran user testing sessions to validate the new tab bar would work as planned.

The car configurator

To help kick-off this project I organised a fun creative workshop (crazy 8s) across the entire product team. I wanted the team to consider the difference between being product-centric (feature-led) and customer-centric (service-led). We agreed on some principles and then brainstormed what a next-gen car configurator would be like. We voted on the best ideas and then I presented our key themes back to stakeholders.

I was tasked with launching the car configurator in over 50 markets which involved the design and development of plenty of new features. Some common challenges I faced involved local market legislation, language variation, content changes and testing things locally.

I worked with the product owner and local markets to manage feature prioritisation and to share user testing findings so that we could continue to make user-centric decisions. I also visited our tech team in Latvia to understand any technical limitations before suggesting changes.

We used a couple of third parties (JD Powers and Psyma) to benchmark our experience against the competitor’s. More often than not, their findings further validated our own research.

It was challenging to design a product that had so much variation, but I think we managed to strike the right balance between simplicity and functionality.

Care by Volvo

My next project involved supporting the launch of the world’s first car subscription service in the US (to coincide with the launch of the XC40). I was asked to help define the key components that would make the offer attractive to customers. After some competitor research this meant combining the following elements into one simple monthly payment:

  • Initial deposit
  • Transfer costs & vehicle registration
  • Road tax
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance and wear repairs
  • A replacement vehicle when you need it.

We created some bespoke flows on volvocars.com that allowed users to understand Care by Volvo; configure a new XC40; choose their mileage; receive a bespoke price and finally complete the purchase online.

Session recordings

We decided to enable session recording/sharing across all product teams via a MouseFlow integration. This was extremely useful as I could tag and analyse the videos to start to map our biggest opportunities to improve the experience. I made a report detailing exactly what needed to be done (in which product team) and presented back to stakeholders… the majority-case user flow was not as expected:

User testing

One of the early contradictions with Care by Volvo was that customers were equally excited by personalising their car as they were by having the flexibility to change cars often. However, behavioural research was showing less engagement for personalisation than planned.

Due to personalisation lead times (building a car from scratch), we also wanted to experiment with offering Care by Volvo customers a limited curated choice of vehicles instead. I ran user testing sessions to try to validate the following hypothesis:

  • A ‘light configurator’ experience will be less effort and more engaging than navigating the configurator.

The result of the user tests showed that users loved the ability to ‘jump ahead’ by matching their needs to a fully-personalised Care by Volvo car. However, they still expected to be able to change the colour, engine, wheels and accessories if they wanted… we had to keep further personalisation as a secondary flow.

Momentary research

Another benefit of the MouseFlow integration was the ability to use on-page widgets to quickly validate customer sentiment in-the-moment. This was incredibly useful as we could now add qualitative attitudinal context to conversion/funnel data.

For example: we could find out if users had a good understanding of the Care by Volvo offer, or we could discover what information users were searching for.

I used momentary research in pragmatic ways, such as benchmarking design amends to see if our users understanding of the Care by Volvo offer had improved. But I also to used the tool to understand our hedonistic experience, such as the emotional propensity towards Volvo, or the emotional response to a newly released feature.

Surveys

I decided to run a ‘barriers to purchase’ survey to empathise with ‘exit-intent’ users in more detail. Initially I asked questions to size the typical barriers to purchase: cost, urgency, relevance, impressiveness and ease. I then asked a sub-series of questions to understand the context and opportunities.

I presented the results of this survey to stakeholders and we tweaked our approach accordingly. I ran the survey a second time (after a big change to our offer) to further validate that things were moving in the right direction.

Brand experience

I was then asked to plan innovative experiences across Volvo’s three brand pillars: safety, convenience and sustainability. Initially we decided to benchmark the existing impression of the Volvo brand so that we could measure future improvement.

I then started to create wires for three new flows that would announce the following brand targets:

  • Volvo will give back one week of quality time per year to owners of Volvo cars (convenience)
  • Volvo will produce and sell ~50% electric cars by 2025 (sustainability)
  • Volvo’s vision is that no one should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo car by 2020 (safety)

User testing

After designing the pages and planning the content I decided to user test the flows to ensure they would have the desired effect. It was wonderful to see how a customer’s perception of the brand changed when they found out about the safety record of the new XC90 (0 deaths from car crashes in the UK since launch); or Volvo’s impressive ‘Volvo on Call’ app functionality; or Volvo’s industry-leading adoption of electric propulsion/assistance.

ResearchOps

During my time at Volvo I helped get the best out of other designers and researchers to foster a supportive environment of collaboration. I led a team of product designers and encouraged other product teams to start conducting user testing by sharing best practice, scripts and templates.

Towards the end of my contract I also helped start a ResearchOps pillar at Volvo due to the changing structure of teams. This involved running a research demonstration at Volvo’s keynote event and presenting the importance of customer-centric (actionable) research to stakeholders.

Summary

I worked at Volvo for 2 years, initially I was based out of London and Gothenburg and then based out of Paris and Gothenburg. I worked on improving the IA and nav for ~3 months; the car configurator for ~12 months; Care by Volvo for ~6 months and brand innovations for ~3 months.

I often led other product designers/researchers and worked across a few different product teams. I worked directly with technical architects and developers in Gothenburg, but also visited the wider development team in Latvia from time-to-time.

Volvo’s car configurator increased completed configurations by 45%, lead generations by 29% and test drive requests by 58%.

Volvo’s sales increased by 12% from 2017 to 2018.

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Jon Marshall

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Freelance UX expert: I enjoy solving problems with insightful research, intuitive flows and elegant interfaces. I’m now back in London, after 2 years in Paris.

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