March 2021
The Future Occupant: A New Lens for Vehicle Experience Design
<a href="" target="_self">David Byron</a>
David Byron

Manager – Design + Innovation Strategy

How can we bridge the gap between the vehicle and its occupant(s)? As expectations of the future vehicle experience move from driving to riding, the focus is increasingly on the occupant and what everyone is going to do with their newfound free time.

When looking at the foundation of the word ‘occupant’ the definition reads, “a person who resides or is present in a house, vehicle, seat, or place, at a given time.” The interesting element here is “at a given time.” The key aspect of given time could be entirely omitted, and we’d still accept the definition, but truly understanding a user’s given time is critical to building meaningful experiences for future autonomous vehicle occupants.

Product opportunities are rooted in understanding how much time a consumer is given. Even if carefully designed experiences are presented to a user, if the effort it takes to engage in that activity doesn’t perfectly align with the user’s mental time equation for the moment they are in, they often will just pass on the experience.

If given 15, 30, or 45 minutes of free time, what would you do with it? Given 15 minutes we most often will just kill it on our phones. Given 30 minutes though, maybe get into some project work, invest in yourself by reading, or stream a show. Given 45 minutes though, now you really need to do something productive; get a workout in, sleep, practice playing an instrument, etc.

When constructing meaningful future autonomous solutions within a given time, within a given space, there are four key filters to designing desirable occupant experiences.

Own versus Rent

Whether in an owned space or rented space, user experiences are filtered through different emotional equations. People are comfortable in their vehicle they spend time in every day. How comfortable are people doing the things we are expecting them to do in a shared space? How easily can they bring things with them? If an ideal activity requires them to bring something along, and can be left in their own parked autonomous vehicles, it’s doable. But if they need to bring it with them throughout the day and multiple ride-share rides, they’ll probably pass on it.

Public versus Private

Are you designing an experience for someone alone, or with others? Are we asking them to work, sleep, shop, or eat alone, or with others? We all act differently when strangers are around. In time, we let down our walls, but look at any comparable model like mass transit or airplanes; almost everyone resorts to the confinement of their mobile devices regardless of the time they have, out of respect to not bother others, or out of insecurity to not be judged doing something bothersome themselves.

Waiting versus Doing

At all times, we are all either waiting or doing. Both scenarios need to be designed for. What we need to focus on as innovators depends on the length of time our consumer has. The task of driving is the current “doing” paradigm. As we allow the driver to transition away from that task, the question is now, “What are they ‘doing’ as an occupant with their given time?” Users are confined to the vehicle’s spatial dimensions, and the opportunity to do something beyond their mobile device is in the hands of the innovators offering frictionless experiences that fit into their daily scenarios.

Still Versus Moving

What can you do in a moving environment? What can’t you do in a moving environment? We must consider the vast amounts of people who limit their activities in a vehicle purely out of the negative effects of motion. This is a huge opportunity for innovation in areas such as suspensions, seats, HMI, displays and smart glass.

Is there potentially a new mobility time equation on the horizon? What if we changed the perspective from the most valued factor being how fast we get somewhere, to how enjoyable it was to get there? The average commute in America is 24 minutes one-way, but what if your favorite show is 30 minutes? Who wants to end their ride-share trip with 6 minutes of a show left to finish? Most people feel more satisfied with structured predictable time managed blocks in their day anyway. Sometimes your commute is 24 minutes, but sometimes it’s 32. What if you could extend the commute time when ordering a ride and make it a more valuable experience – actually choosing to go slower to have a more satisfying trip and plan valuable time.

How are you bridging the gap between the vehicle and its occupants …and their given time?

What’s your unique offering to the consumer experience?

Define how you are addressing this 4-part equation with a compelling, meaningful solution.

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David Byron

Manager – Design + Innovation Strategy

David Byron, Manager of Design and Innovation Strategy, has design experience ranging from supercars to hand tools. His passion for cars led him to Detroit where he graduated from the College for Creative Studies. He spent his early career focused on the automotive world where he was lead designer on many vehicles such as the Saleen S5S Raptor supercar. At Sundberg-Ferar David has led design projects from visual brand language development to multiple design innovation strategy projects focusing on human centric needs that inform and guide insightful design solutions.

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