In this episode of Point B, host Steve Schwinke dives into a discussion with Sr. Director of Mobility at Rightpoint, Bill Thompson about key considerations in creating an effective digital experience for the vehicle user.
1:12 Crabwalk and Watts to Freedom explained
2:07 The marriage of engineering, design, and user experience
3:35 The shift away from design for manufacturing
5:40 Considering human factors in design and engineering
7:10 Safety considerations for the digital user experience
8:34 Measuring the relationship between distracted driving and feature use
10:12 Designing the digital experience for the mobility product offering
Bill Thompson is Sr. Director of Mobility at Rightpoint, a digital experience company in a relentless pursuit of a world that works better for people. In his current role, Bill is focused on growing the mobility centered business responsible for creating connected experiences that move humanity across Land, Sea, Air, and Virtual environments.
Before Rightpoint, Bill spent 17 years at General Motors primarily focused on digital experiences from web, mobile and In-Vehicle. As leader of the In-Vehicle User Experience team, his responsibilities included team building, discipline growth, guiding strategic design, brand development, cross-channel collaboration, and implementation of digital interfaces across the global product portfolio.
Over multiple generations of products, he has helped to bring industry-leading technologies such as Autonomous Cruise, Advanced Park Assist, Augmented Reality, Google Built-In, Apple CarPlay, Realtime 3D, as well as enhanced drive modes like Watts-to-Freedom and CrabWalk to market.
It was in the In-Vehicle realm where Bill honed his belief that unified digital experiences are as critical for users as they are for brands; especially while moving to a future of electrification, automation, and endless mobility options connected through the digital frontier.
- [Announcer] Welcome back to another episode of Point B, a Sibros podcast where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry. Tune in to learn about topics ranging from the next generation of electric vehicles to advances in connectivity and micromobility.
- Welcome to Point B, an original Sibros podcast. My name is Steve Schwinke. I am the Vice President of Customer Engagement at Sibros, and today I have a very special guest, Bill Thompson who is Senior Director of Mobility at Rightpoint. Welcome Bill.
- Steve, thanks for having me today. Really excited to be here.
- So you spent 17 years at General Motors as a leader of In-Vehicle User Experience and you helped bring industry leading technologies such as Autonomous Cruise, Advanced Park Assist, Augmented Reality, Google Built-In, Apple Car Play, realtime 3D to market, but you also worked on things like drive modes, Watts-to-Freedom and CrabWalk to market.
- What are those? I don't really even know what the CrabWalk to market is.
- Yeah, so CrabWalk was a feature that we developed exclusively for the new Hummer vehicle to allow four wheels to traverse terrain and get in and out of tight spots and off road conditions and tight city conditions, you know, as like a dynamic steering element. So instead of just the front wheels turning and rotating, all four can kind of guide you around things while maintaining forward or reverse momentum. So that's a pretty fun feature. And then Watts-to-Freedom is just, you know, if you want all the power on launch, boom, you engage it, and you're gone.
- So you think about the user experience when customers first, you know, experience something like the CrabWalk. I mean, would your goal be that they don't have to go to a training course to learn how to use this that it just kinda works out of the box or do they really have to get some type of training before they can use that feature?
- Right. Right. So you know, you're sort of, in my career I walked the line or I lived this life between engineering and design and customer value, right. So, you know as well as I do from our history together you may have a feature set or some requirements, and then you may have a designer interpret those requirements, but at the end of the day the thing that is most important is that the customer or the user understands unequivocally how to execute with minimum amount of education. And that was really the goal. So while I was at General Motors in this role where I was leading In-Vehicle User Experience we really took an empathetic approach to how we designed for humanity. And in fact, we coined the moniker "mobilize humanity" which really helped us to illustrate the need to put people first so that the learning times weren't long and that things were very easy to digest and consume and execute right when you get in the vehicle.
- So Bill, that's fascinating. And as you mentioned, we both worked at General Motors for close to 20 years.
- I remember a time, you know, and you're getting into this discussion around user experience and starting to really emphasize it, and you would peel back, let's move back in time a little bit. I remember when General Motors was on this path of design for manufacturing, and we've shifted, or they shifted away from that extensively, but can you talk about how that shift has occurred?
- Large OEMs?
- Yeah, absolutely, Steve. So I think, you know, to contextualize a little bit, when we first started internalizing the industrial design, the software design, and the interaction design, was around the launch of the 2013 Cadillac XTS. Previous to that, you know, we were buying radios from third parties like you know, JVC, Panasonic, and Sony, and what you end up with is a known entity that you have to design your entire IP around. You don't get the beautiful characteristics that are enabled by owning that, so to your point you are buying hardware, integrating that into your IP and then designing around it. If you think about what we started to enable by insourcing the industrial design, by insourcing the software design, and insourcing the interaction design, controlling those three parameters allows you to enable beautiful architecture in the interior. It allows you to bring in new technologies, new interaction paradigms, and new elements of connectivity that all add value to the customer while enabling those brand characteristics to come to life throughout the, through these products.
- And it's interesting, you're a designer, correct? Your background is in design and it's so important to kinda separate, or at least bring in people with design user experience background, and not just let the engineers design for pure functionality, correct? I mean,
- Right, right.
- that's the often said, "You can tell when something has been designed by the engineers, versus when someone with the true background in user experience and design creates a product, is that correct?
- That's true, and I've fallen on both sides of that equation. User experience at General Motors landed in between design and in between engineering. So you always had to have a sensitivity to the engineering side of things from a process perspective, from a usability and safety perspective, but you also had to be sensitized to the design of things and to what you were trying to enable or unlock for the goals of that vehicle or that platform. And where we came in, in sort of that middle part of the equation was to provide that empathetic perspective to both sides to drive those business objectives forward, but do it in a way that doesn't forget about the user in considering human factors, in considering, you know, all of those safety things that people are going to be using this software, this system, these designs, while riding down the road at 70 miles an hour and back in those days there was no autonomy, so you had to have, you know, you mentioned design so you had to have larger scale and proportions on things like buttons and font sizes than people were necessarily used to on their emerging mobile devices and on their traditional websites.
- That's interesting. And you mentioned they have to be able to do this while traveling at 70 miles an hour, so does that come into play when designing these experiences? I mean, you have to make sure that it has that, you know, distracted driving doesn't overburden the driver, right, and that they're still have to maintain and operate a moving vehicle.
- Right? Safety is a huge consideration. And to go back on something that we touched on at the beginning of the podcast, we instilled a pipeline of what I'll call user testing. We used to do it at certain milestones throughout a vehicle's, you know, development timeline. Our team brought customers in regularly, or users in regularly to ensure the features were usable, the aesthetics were acceptable, and that we would we would run these simulations where they would be driving down a simulated road or in a closed environment using our actual software, using our actual prototypes, using our actual graphics, in simulated environments that ensured that when we went to send this stuff out to launch that safety was paramount and that people were going to recognize like, "Hey, we have to use these things in different conditions, not controlled environments. So we better be putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to safety."
- So what I think about, you know from my engineering standpoint they talked about task completion and glance, like how long you could look at a screen and how long it took to complete a task. Like, can you go through three or four different screens? Is there a true science around measuring distracted driving for a moving vehicle or is it more subjective?
- Yeah. There, and in fact, you know what, I'll give you a perfect example. When we were in our infancy of discovering what branded aesthetic meant to a user experience inside of a vehicle we would use a certain font for one brand, a different font for another brand, but all of the underlaying infrastructure and information architecture would be the same. The fonts changed and the graphics changed. So when you talk about glance duration there was a study that MIT did with I think it was Monotype years ago, where if you used a particular font face, in this instance one that we had been using for you know, marketing materials, brand aesthetic for a certain brand for a long time, using that Grotesque it's called, very boxy, tough to read type typeface, and we switched that to a humanist typeface which is much softer, much more easy to read, we were actually able to save up to 70 meters of breaking time over glance duration just by switching font. It's an incredible, you know, story, an incredible characteristic that you have to take into consideration when you're designing for these vehicles.
- So Bill, you talk about designing, you know for an experience within the vehicle, but let's broaden that and let's think about designing, you know, the digital experience for the mobility product offering. Can you speak a little bit about that?
- Yeah, absolutely. So I'm gonna put that under a Rightpoint lens for a second. So Rightpoint has an incredible ability to sort of peek around corners and see where technology and experiences are going. And when we were partnered together when I was at General Motors and we brought them on as agency of choice to help us build out this Cadillac experience, one of the things that they were able to open our eyes to is what I call "everything that happens left of design and engineering." That's the strategic perspective. That's the product roadmaps, it's the journey maps. And you gotta remember this was at a time where we were just becoming relatively mature in this space on how to operationalize what I will call those unified digital experiences cross channel from the mobile, to the web, to the end vehicle. And what Rightpoint was able to do was teach us how to operationalize that, teach us how to be cohesive in our design language whether it's downloading a new theme for your vehicle from your mobile application and sending that to your vehicle or a navigation experience that you started on your vehicle platform and transitioned to your mobile device to walk the rest of the distance there. That unification is growing exponentially faster than it ever has throughout the, I would say even the IOT history, but specifically from an automotive and a mobility perspective. And what we focus on is how can we help companies realize their business objectives, relevant technologies, and how that pertains to driving customer value? And what we see is at the center of all of that is the user experience. Whether that is a user experience on your mobile device, on your web, on your wrist, in your vehicle, on your boat, on your connected services to your airline flight. All of those things are what we think about unification. It's of course, important to a brand and how they're portrayed cross channel, but it's when we think about humanity, it's bigger than that. And what it really lends itself to is providing a way for people to transcend in between transportation experiences as frictionlessly as possible.
- That's wow. I mean, this is, you know, such a fascinating topic especially where you think about a vehicle ownership is gonna change over the next five years. And you're talking about let's peak around the corner. Bill, this has certainly been, you know, very illuminating for me. I certainly enjoyed talking to you. I wish we had more time to explore this topic in greater detail. Perhaps at another podcast we'll be able to bring you back and go a little bit deeper into these topics. But again, I'd like to thank our guest Bill Thompson from Rightpoint. Thanks for being here with us today.
- Steve, it's been great reconnecting with you. And I think what I'm hearing you're saying is we need a part B to the Point B.
- Hopefully, hopefully we can get that done in the future, and I look forward to talking to you again.
- That'd be great. Thank you. Thanks Bill.
- [ Announcer] Thank you for tuning in to Point B. Join us next time for more auto tech innovations and trends. Point B is brought to you by Sibros.