Personal Iteration:  Smartwatch Concept and Design.

Tools: Contextual Inquiry, Affinity Diagram, Scenario Playing, Round Robin Sketching, Paper Prototyping, Sketch.
Team: Diandian Cao, Braden King, Isha Bagha, Cecilia Gutknecht, and me.

My Role: Contextual Inquiry, Synthesis, Ideation, Concept Testing, Final Concept Design, Low Fidelity Prototypes, Usability Testing, High Fidelity Prototypes.

Overview & Approach

A class project prompted us to explore the experience for self-driving in the future with a goal to solve one of the many issues autonomous cars will surface: security, trust, comfort, reliability.

We constrained to design for autonomous RVs in the year 2025 because of its unconventionality in autonomous car space, easy of access to RV owners in the midwest, and the year 2025 with the assumption that driver behaviors will not change much by then. We designed for the latent need for 'Trust, control and being 'in charge' with RV drivers even when RV is autonomous.

Field visit at RV campground was the surest way to get qualitative research data. To sum up multiple interviews, we identified key insights using affinity diagramming. Using Round Robin sketching to spark many concrete ideas in a short period of time, we concept tested them with the RV drivers. Negative results led us to dig deeper and that's when we uncovered an important insight around the latent need for 'Trust, control and being 'in charge' with RV drivers even when RV is autonomous. We designed for that and the second round of concept test was positive. We fleshed out the concept in detail and did usability tests with a Tesla driver.

Understand RV campers: Synthesizing Research with Affinity Diagram to Build a Persona

Research Goal

  • Identify and understand people and the reasons they use RVs.
  • Learn behaviors, values, painpoint and motivations.

We interviewed 10 campers at a campground and an RV salesman for an average 30 minutes each.

Talking to RV owners at Jellystone Campground; Affinity Diagramming


We synthesized research using Affinity Diagrams because interview participants had different personalities; their goals, experiences, and roles were diverse. The affinity generated these key insights:

Persona photograph from Jason Travis's Persona Project

Solving the wrong problem

Identified Opportunity
From our research, we identified ‘family time’ to be the key motivator for RV trips. The common painpoint across all interviewees was that drivers are away from the rest when they drive and the vacation only begins when they reach the destination.

Poor Hypothesis
We hypothesised that with autonomous RV, the drivers will be with their families in the living space and can have quality family time. We defined our challenge to design for 'quality family time'? Initial concepts explored ideas like road trip movie maker, displaying slideshows on windows, a pullout porch, etc.

Why Round Robin
We used Round Robin sketching to produce these concepts because 4 initial ideas could be fleshed out using every team member's contribution.

Round Robin: Road trip movie maker, Photograph slideshows on windows, Pullout Porch, Automatic Memory Capture

Negative Concept Tests
We shared these concept sketches with RV campers back at the campground. It proved that we addressed the wrong problem. Interviewees felt neutral about these ideas, and we realized ‘quality’ family time was an abstract idea that needed further development.

Problem Framing: Translating current driver behavior to autonomous RV

Revisiting Insights
Going back to our research insights, we focused to define what it meant to be 'in charge' and trusting human judgment over technology.

More Research
We visited a local tailgating event to better understand the psychic of a typical RV driver, how they made impromptu decisions on the road and how would an autonomous RV will change that behavior. The key insights from these conversations were:

“I like to know what’s happening with my RV. If someone else is driving, my eyes are still on the road or if there’s a bump, I’d go straight to the front to check what’s up.”

Proposed Concept

Summing both rounds of research, the redefined design goal was to sustain driver behavior, make them 'in charge', and build trust with the autonomous RV.

Sustain Driver Behavior

The autonomous RV should do what most RV drivers from today would do.

Making them 'in charge'

The autonomous RV should ask drivers for decision making.

Build Trust

The autonomous RV should offer to relinquish control to humans in difficult weather or traffic condition.

Design Goal
One way to interpret this is that we are enabling drivers ‘to know what’s happening with the RV’ and letting them be ‘in control’ of the vehicle whenever and wherever they want to without any obtrusion to the actual activity they’re doing. We imagined this as part of a large interface inside the RV.

Use Case
From our interviews we learned drivers make decisions about where to stop for gas or meals. We chose to focus on that versus more technical gauges, meters, levels or in general, maintenance stuff.

When driver action is needed, alerts show up with quick controls.

  • Drivers can just glance at the screen instead of going to the front where main controls are.
  • The design offers cognitive offload.
  • They can respond to a situation from the comfort of their living space area.

Interface: An iPad screen in the RV living room

An interface for un-obtrusive decision tree that suggests relinquishing control to build trust, automatic selection of a recommended temporary gas or food stops along the route (which can still be changed by the drivers) to give them control and putting them 'in charge'.

Usability Testing & Revision

Since we ran out of time to test the final design with RV drivers, we did a usability test of the interface. We gave our participants context using a wall-sized digital screen. The goal was to get actionable design iterations. Interestingly, one of them drove a Tesla.

  • Show nearest or cheapest gas station first
  • Make price, distance and progress bar more noticeable
  • Add a steering wheel icon with ‘Take Control’
  • Change ‘Go To’ to ‘Add Temporary Stop’
  • Add icons for quicker interpretation

Project Update: Smartwatch Prototype

I suspect wearables in 2025 will be ubiquitous as smartphones today. I had not designed an interface for a wearable before, and I wanted to explore it because it has limited screen size. The smartwatch is for drivers who want to have independent control or do not want to worry/bother the other passengers when an alert is raised.

Stripping the design to its bare essesntials makes it more compelling if every little detail has a reason behind it.

Since the screen size is minisucle, the goal is to communicate the most essential information that can be comprehended in a glance Call to Actions are in the center region for quick access.
And the visual style matches the current Mercedes Benz Companion App for iOS.

What I learned

Comfort is Dangerous
Conducting many field interviews made us comfortable and in turn overconfident. We got slow and failed to test initial ideas early.

Test Ideas Early and Often
I now realize the value of testing ideas or concepts early up in the process. Nothing beats talking to users if you want to confirm or disapprove assumptions.

Couple Persona vs. Individual Persona
It was interesting to try a couple persona. Every time we made a design decision, we would think about what would the couple want to do instead of a person.

Rigorous Honesty is Best for the team, the design!
I had qualms about the direction we took but, I didn’t fight it since I did not have a better idea to propose at the time. Later, the entire team lost confidence in the idea. Me sharing my inhibitions earlier would have saved the team some time.

Team: Diandian Cao, Braden King, me, Isha Bagha
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