April 11, 2023 by Barbara Metternich-Heider and Daniel Keller
Creating a positive emotional connection between users and their vehicles is a fundamental aspect of what makes a successful automaker. But how do you create those positive emotions? UXD could be the answer.
Do you remember your first car? Of course you do. When we think about the first car we ever had, a flood of memories comes rushing back. That’s because cars are more than transport vehicles — they’re carriers of emotions. Cars bring us experiences and emotions like no other machine. So, as the world transforms and developments in technology bring new possibilities (and new expectations) to users, how can automakers make sure they still generate an emotional response from their customers? How can automakers appeal to the new expectations of drivers and passengers so that their brands remain at the top? In this article, we’ll take a look at the psychology of user experience (UX) in automotive and discuss how to use user experience design (UXD) to build and maintain customer loyalty and brand reputation.
Some people might assume emotionally appealing attributes are only for sports or luxury cars. They’re totally not. Emotional experiences in cars are for everyone — whether it’s a fondness of a cute, small car like the Fiat 500 whose driver calls it their baby, or the comfort and ease delivered by a VW Transporter and the owner who’s happy to get all their stuff in there every single day without worrying about it. Even those everyday cars with drivers who claim they’re not attached to them — they still bring an emotional response, usually in the form of the comfort and reliability they provide (imagine a week without that car if you’re not convinced). Emotions can be completely different for different types of customers and target groups and of course, brands: The constant factor is that people have an emotional attachment to cars and this attachment or bias influences purchasing decisions.
In today’s world of digital experiences where smartphones are ubiquitous and entertainment is available anywhere and everywhere, it’s not enough to create a product that simply works. Modern users want experiences different to those of the past — for most people it’s not about the rumble of the seat and the roar of the engine, it’s about software features such as Christmas mode, or the effectiveness of journey planners.
Products like cars need to be fun to operate and need to create positive emotions with the user. Users have come to expect the same seamless experience their smartphones deliver from every product: They don’t want compromises in their new vehicle.
On top of that, we’re not limited to what happens inside the car — during a ride, connected mobility offers and demands a much more holistic approach to address customer needs in a more holistic way.
A lot of it comes down to focus. Automakers are currently facing enormous pressure from new disruptors and software firms in the advent of software-defined vehicles (SDVs). Often, resources are allocated to developing, integrating and shipping the software itself, so there’s very few resources left to think about emotional design. If we look back at the pyramid of needs, before advancing to emotional design, automakers first must have a functional state and right now, that can even be a huge challenge.
Some leaders are already putting efforts in exterior and interior design to create an emotional atmosphere, but for one of the key components — screens — not all brands have reached the point where they can provide delightful HMIs.
As Gordon Wagener from Mercedes stated, “Screens are the new horsepower”, so the traditional values of how brands are perceived are shifting. People still love to have a cool looking car that fits their needs, but they’re also more and more making their buying decisions based on the software and UXD that’s in the vehicle. This can also be seen in car reviews; more and more car reviews focus on the content of the screens, how it’s operated and how it makes you feel. The focus is often more on the digital content than the car itself. This is especially true for very modern vehicles and especially with EVs.
Each OEM and each car is different. Therefore the users and target groups need to be analyzed for what their exact needs are. Then, the UI design of the car can help to achieve a positive emotional connection based on those needs.
Take this EV use-case for example:
In a small, cheap, commuter EV with a small range, it’s very important that the charging experience at home is seamless and the user has full control over the charging status from the app and they can control different settings like scheduled charging, preheating, precooling and limited max charge level.
However, in a long-range EV, one of the most important things is seamless route planning with fast charging stops integrated without the user even having to think about it.
And then you have electric pickup trucks, where maybe you want to put the focus on the seamless vehicle to grid experience or having your vehicle as a backup solution when power goes out or having a good experience when powering your tools in the woods.
So, optimally, vehicles shine in all areas, but when there is a special need, those special needs must be the focus areas — that’s why it’s so important to understand different user needs and to design for them.
Luxoft has a lot of experience with supporting clients in exactly this area. Due to our international team setup and our wide range of expertise including designers, psychologists, linguists and UX researchers, we have the capability to support on all levels of emotional processing for a delightful user experience. Here are some of our experts’ top tips:
The increasing market share of EV cars shows a trend — that customers are getting more flexible in changing their preferred brand (e.g., customer loyalty is down from 54% in 2010 to 46% in 2022 in Germany), therefore automakers face a bigger challenge in keeping or regaining their maximum client base.
The long-term relationships from customers to a specific brand are built on emotions: Create positive emotions from your users and they’ll keep coming back to you. This leads to closer contact with clients which then further enables the designing and developing of products that will resonate in the market, leading to new customers.
Let´s get emotional and create some excitement together.