NOVI, MI – A better understanding of driver interaction with assistive systems is the key to minimizing driver distraction and making vehicles safer, a panel of experts speaking at Wards 10 Best User Experiences suggests.

“There’s a lot that’s happening in the UX space right now, and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, because there’s so much more information coming at the user,” says Dave Lyon, partner and founder-Pocketsquare Design, who moderates the panel “Solving UX Issues.”

“Being able to organize that information and prioritize it, and most importantly to get a lot of these new safety systems to be real assets and used and enjoyed and expected from customers, puts a lot pressure on us to get that right.”

Data is beginning to show consumers do use and place a high value on systems such as blind-spot detection and rear-view backup cameras, says panelist Kristin Kolodge, executive director-Driver Interaction and Human Machine Interface at J.D. Power.

The company’s UX satisfaction index is based on four criteria: understandability, usability, trust and usefulness, Kolodge says. And while some systems rate highly after 90 days of ownership, some are getting turned off because consumers either don’t need or place any value on the assistance or they don’t know how to use it.

“This one is absolutely very fixable for us right now,” Kolodge says. “How do we interact and how do we create that greater level of understandability on how to learn and operate that system.”

Building trust based on the capability of current assistive systems is the key to persuading consumers to accept fully autonomous vehicles in the future, she adds.

“We have to maintain this positive experience and maintain this positive trajectory to make sure that when you (OEMs) are functionally ready to release autonomous vehicles, the consumers are ready and waiting for them,” Kolodge concludes.

Making drivers and their passengers feel safe and secure is another route to understanding how to develop automotive UX, says Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader at Ford.

“What we know from a lot of the safety data is that many of these systems are starting to make real, measurable differences in terms of real safety statistics,” Greenberg says. “These systems are providing real benefits to drivers.”

However, because the systems are largely disconnected from each other, designers need to consider the systems as a whole, as a single technology designed to keep consumers safe and secure.

“I think the ‘help me stay safe’ part we’ve probably done a fairly good job on, (but) ‘help me feel secure’ I think we’ve got a ways to go on that to actually communicate emotionally to people and help them understand that these systems really are providing benefits.

“We’re opening up a new chapter where there is a possibility of having some systems which not only perform the way we want in terms of their safety and their usability, but also resonate with consumers and allow them to understand it in a very, very simple way.”

Getting to that point requires looking at the “mobility journey” not limited to the automotive sector and designed to create a personalized experience, says Michael Tschirhart, innovation group manager-Advanced Engineering at Panasonic Automotive Systems.

Panasonic’s efforts focus on gathering trait-based “personalization” data that provides insight into how people interact with automotive technology and how much value they place on personalized experiences as drivers.

To help people get more comfortable with technology, Tschirhart says, developers need to “think about things less like how a person interacts with technology and more about how a person interacts with a person,” providing “the right amount of information at the right time, based on how each driver responds.

“We’re getting a much more nuanced view of how to tailor some of the experiences they have, based on some of these traits and who they are.”

For now, OEMs are the “experts on how people can interact with vehicles while they’re driving,” Greenberg says. “We need to improve those interfaces, we need to keep them more and more competitive with what people experience on their mobile phones. But there is an opportunity to do it better in the vehicles.”

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com @bobgritzinger