User experience design: Intuitive operating concepts for added safety, comfort and convenience

27 Jan 2017
gadget time

Daimler plays a pioneering role in shaping the digital world on board cars: the company was the first automobile manufacturer in the world to open a research and development centre in Silicon Valley, back in 1995. The Digital Graphic & Corporate Design Center was established within the Design unit for this specific purpose in the summer of 2015. In the face of the increasingly complexity for the user as a result of digitisation, the experts here are concerned with making operation of the vehicle as user-friendly as possible, with an innate sensual appeal. The merging of the real and virtual worlds opens up new dimensions in the areas of comfort, safety and modern luxury.

The transition from the analogue to the digital world was a radical one: in developing the S-Class, which was launched in 2005, the Mercedes‑Benz designers had to contemplate a new control and display concept. The control logic of the COMAND control and display system underwent a comprehensive overhaul and the sliding rotary pushbutton which is now available in many model series was introduced. Today, just ten years later, the E-Class features broadband screens with displays that can be individualised accordingly by the user. The vehicle is additionally controlled via touch surfaces in the steering wheel and in the centre console. The setting of many functions with the aid of menus is supported by animated graphics on the display, while conventional switches and buttons are also available for key functions.

The user experience designers – UX designers in short – design the relationships between man and machine and vice-versa. While user interface design – in short UI design – relates only to user interfaces, UX design creates an all-embracing experience.

“One of our primary tasks in recent years has been to enable the user to operate and control the new on-board digital facilities in the most intuitive fashion possible, thereby providing the driver with complete control”, explains Klaus Frenzel, Head of Digital Graphic & Corporate Design. “Today we are shaping the paradigm shift to the machine that understands people and makes their lives easier and indeed more pleasant. The philosophy of Sensual Purity applies here, too – in the interests of simple, intuitive operation which is enjoyable for the user”.

What is called for here is a high-quality overall experience which, in contrast to seats, switches or trim, is not based solely on the haptic qualities and craftsmanship of the employed materials. Rather, sophisticated graphic design is the order of the day. “We follow the same principles as the other design areas”, says Frenzel. “An important aspect is realisation of the screen animations in 3D, to create an all-embracing spatial experience. Attributes such as high quality, precision and a loving attention to detail apply equally to us in the digital world”.

Shaping the future: free flow of ideas in Silicon Valley

Mercedes‑Benz designers are also helping to shape the digital revolution in Silicon Valley – the beating heart of the digital world. Programmers, engineers and designers work hand in hand at the Advanced Design Studio in Sunnyvale. A free, interdisciplinary flow of ideas gives rise to innovative content, concepts, designs and prototypes relating to all aspects of vehicles and future mobility. The impetus comes from various directions. “Sometimes the designers have an apparently crazy idea, which they ask the developers to turn into reality. Sometimes the engineers have a new concept and call on the designers to design a corresponding car”, notes Frenzel.

The work involved here goes far beyond creating attractive designs for ever larger screens. “Our vision is an all-embracing experience which does not overtax drivers and in which they feel at home. To this end it is crucial that the complex digital world appears simple and comprehensible. The emotional experience of boarding a Mercedes‑Benz is to be heightened, welcoming the driver home”, Frenzel explains.

In this way, intelligent technology transforms automobiles into digital companions. The machine develops its own character and becomes a friend and partner to the user. The vehicle gets to know its driver, anticipates their wishes and preferences, making their everyday life easier. The merging of the real and virtual worlds opens up new dimensions with regard to comfort, safety and modern luxury.

The standardisation of user interfaces has now given way to individualisation – an icon of the vehicle greets the driver in the instrument cluster before the car is started. The driver can choose between three display styles and up to 64 colour moods for the ambiance light, in addition to which individual configuration of the displays is also possible. One of the next steps will involve specific personalisation: the car will alter the ambiance light, seats and displays according to the driver’s personal preferences or current mood, for example, and offer their preferred music. The future will witness ever increasing technical possibilities.

The interior of the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6: a foretaste of what the future holds

The interior of the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 show car, which had its world premiere in August 2016, demonstrates how UX design will continue to develop in the direction of simplified operation. Digitality is in evidence throughout the vehicle’s interior. The interior with its high-quality leather trim features a colour scheme which perfectly underscores the digital innovations. In the doors and on the instrument panel, the traditional wood trim gives way to digital control and display interfaces. The classic circular instruments are combined with deep displays, alluding to the history of Mercedes‑Benz. In the “hyper-analogue” instruments the pointers move over a round, crystal-look display.

In contrast, other digital display elements are integrated into a continuous glass trim part. Information about the seat, for example, can be shown on this digital strip. Map information is also shown in the front area of the strip. Menu content is extended along a digital line which extends to the sides as far as the occupants, who can set their own content in ergonomically ideal fashion by means of touch control.

The front windscreen serves as a transparent display: driving-related data and geographical information is shown across its full width, augmenting the outside world with additional information. This information can be controlled and adjusted individually by the occupants using gestures.

The Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 also provides a foretaste of the “ Fit & Healthy” vision: the luxury leather on the seats incorporates minimalist display surfaces with integrated sensors – these “body sensor displays” record the passengers’ vital functions, for example. As a result, comfort features such as seat climate or the massage function can be activated or the seat settings adjusted to suit the passenger. The sensors embedded in the upholstery also record the incidence of light, the colour of the occupant’s clothing and the ambient temperature. This information can be used to trigger new, emotional lighting effects in the interior.

“Concept EQ”: foretaste of a new user experience

The “Concept EQ” (world premiere at the 2016 Paris Motor Show), with which Mercedes‑Benz provides a foretaste of a new generation of electric battery-powered vehicles, outlines the future user experience in an automobile: the new user interface combines emotionality with user-friendliness, with a focus on straightforward, touch-based operation by means of touch-sensitive surfaces. The asymmetrical design of the instrument panel with its large, 24-inch widescreen display which appears to hover in space is tailored to the driver’s needs and places all relevant information such as speed, range, trip data or navigation and map details in the driver’s field of vision.

This means that the concept vehicle dispenses with the control logic of today’s vehicles and provides a glimpse of the future of what experts call “user interaction”.

“Concept EQ” navigation: new design for 3D city view

The digital interface of the “Concept EQ” can do considerably more than this: another highlight is the high-detail 3D city view with its new design. The technical basis for this visualisation is provided by the map platform from HERE. This makes it possible, for example, to show restaurants, shopping opportunities and tourist attractions within the map view. A further focus is on reduced visual complexity while the vehicle is in motion: the driver sees only those buildings and information that are relevant for navigation. The driver is provided with information on charging stations as well as opportunities for inductive charging along the route. The show car’s high-detail display also includes an indication of the current energy consumption along the route.

Mercedes‑Benz Vision Van: communicates with the driver and its surroundings

Networking as a key component of the user experience also plays an important role in the area of commercial vehicles. “Networking makes logistics more efficient and is thus an economic factor. That’ � s one reason why we occupy a leading role in UX and UI design”, stresses Kai Sieber, Head of Brands & Operations.

The Mercedes‑Benz Vision Van, which was premiered at the 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicles Show, demonstrates this in exemplary fashion: the van combines numerous innovative technologies and assumes the role of the central intelligent element in a fully networked logistics chain. The driver is able to access the parcels in the correct sequence for delivery, for example. Deliveries can also be carried out by means of the drones which are based in the roof area.

The interior design is uncompromisingly pared down to a functional level in a highly futuristic guise. The designers have done without a steering wheel, pedals and centre console in favour of drive-by-wire control by means of a joystick, thereby creating new design options. This results in a new interior centering on easy entry and exit and close communications between driver and vehicle.

The dashboard in the shape of a broadly sweeping arc is covered with a textile and extends across the whole front end. The entire surface is used to provide the driver with all the information they need for their work. When the Vision Van is at rest, the arc appears as a continuous textile surface with a black and blue honeycomb pattern. When the vehicle is in operation, a tachometer, route planning information and drone flight data, for example, light up through the textile covering.

The vehicle also communicates with the driver via the cab floor. LED indicators appear by way of a special effect in the stainless steel floor, signalling to the driver whether pedestrians or cyclists are approaching the vehicle, for example. At the rear wall of the driver’s cabin are the package dispenser and the driver’s info terminal. This terminal serves as a means of communication between the Vision Van’s automated logistics environment and the driver, who is able to concentrate fully on the impending delivery task.

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