Best practices for agile HMI prototyping and development to accelerate UX innovation

 Virtual Car HMI Europe 2020

How to ensure the final product feels polished and has a superior UX.

Presented by Kalle Wallin, Lead Technical Artist at Rightware, at Virtual Car HMI Europe 2020.


Virtual Car HMI Europe 2020 Rightware Presentation


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 Discover best practices for agile HMI prototyping and development to  accelerate UX innovation


My name is Kalle Wallin, and I am presenting today our view on how to ensure agile HMI prototyping and development and how, during the process, you can also accelerate your UX innovation to achieve a superior user experience.

I'm working as a Lead Technical Artist at Rightware. Rightware was founded in 2009 as a spinoff from gaming and 3D graphics benchmarking companies. Rightware is the market leader in full digital clusters, and we're offering designer-friendly, state-of-the-art UI creation tools. We're headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, and our product values include fast start-up time, high frame rate, and very robust applications. We try to offer one tool set that allows for rapid prototyping and that also works all the way to serious production. We also have a well-established ecosystem of partners within the automotive industry.

I'm working in a unit called Kanzi Services, which is a customer-facing unit of Rightware. In addition to general customer support, we’re offering everything from concept design to production, including the customer project implementation. We also have additional support services. We conduct trainings and workshops and we also take customer projects and offer optimization services. Basically, our team has very broad insight from working on proof of concepts and production projects with most major OEMs around the globe and some of the trends in the automotive industry have deep implications to HMI development and UX design.

Trends in production

There were trends also in the previous presentation, so I'll jump in with our view on the trends and what we are seeing in the production. We're seeing the interactivity to be evolving with the information growth. We're not only getting new functionalities, but we're expanding the old ones as well, so we have to come up with fresh new ideas for navigation and audio playback. On top of that, we're also seeing a lot of fully electric vehicles that need to show completely new features like energy flow, (and) we have internet and added artificial intelligence.

These interactions we have to connect to new experiences using voice interaction, augmented reality, and head-up display. We have the automated and assisted functionalities that consist of a tremendous amount of questions for designers and especially UX designers to answer. We’re curating what comes to all the new sensors in the vehicles, and we try to answer new user requirements as well. We'll need to be able to take full advantage of the sensors and ensure a safe driving experience, and ensure the user feels comfortable using the product to be able to enjoy the drive.

Innovations in design

As a starting point for the design, we want to be able to answer the upgradability of the HMI and we will need to keep all the functionalities extremely easy to use. We will see more and more availability to personalize the views, to ensure that each user has control over their own view preference. To help us visualize the steps made by the user to complete the tasks, we build a UX chart by putting the user at the center and identifying how users navigate the HMI. We then use the UX chart for studying, understanding, and documenting the needs and preferences of the user.

So, in our preferred base for the UX chart, we'll create it according to the feature scope and specifications. For us in Kanzi services, UX means balancing the user's cognitive load so that the driver can complete as many tasks as possible with the least attention. So, we want to achieve a very efficient output with minimum input, and this will also help us to build the driver's trust in the car.

Personalizing product features

Often in the product features, there are features that remain the same, like general cluster features showing the speed, media, and basic ADAS features. But we're also seeing, like I mentioned before, a lot of personalized features, so the user has control on the screen. This includes, for example, designing editable layouts so the user can change the view and get the information on the screen that best suits, them to ensure a high level of usability.

The core elements have to also be considered by the type of vehicle we're targeting or vehicle type, and also physical design plays a big role in defining the interactions. If we're talking about a conventional or an electric vehicle, the features and interactions differ. Also, there's a big difference if we're defining a luxury vehicle or a vehicle with low-end hardware. So, the vehicle with the low-end hardware may not have all the sensors or special equipment that we need to consider, but we will need to make the user experience feel as good without these beneficial factors.

The special equipment can be something like multiple displays, cameras, or steering wheel buttons, which can be extremely beneficial for the user experience if they're placed correctly and they have good usability. But if these are not well-thought through, they can also cause a lot of confusion and distractions for the user, resulting in a bad user experience.

Maintaining good user experience with personalized features

To be able to provide the good user experience, we need to analyze the target user’s desires and conduct user interviews to get a very clear understanding of the functions and features, as well as the user preferences and expectations. We can then move to the next stage, putting up different kinds of user scenarios to add value to our product.

In our design principles and process, we need to start not with defining the target users, but the most common desires of the user, and this can be achieved through user interviews and scenarios. This helps us build the blocks for user actions in the cockpit. The functions are built so they feel unique to this vehicle and also match all the other functions that we have inside the cabin.

Some examples of these scenarios can be going shopping, finding a parking space and using assisted parking features to park the vehicle, for example. When we're building the scenarios, we also have to consider that we have a lot of different people driving the vehicles and the users have different kinds of psychological needs. So, how should we plan functionalities that can contain different levels of information? For example, if we're targeting beginning drivers or extremely experienced drivers, having this kind of experience level information customizable will minimize the distraction for the driver, and the product feels easy to use. We're allowing the user to be in control over what they see. This also affects how the user feels during the drive, making the drive feel enjoyable.

A part of our design process after drive scenarios is building information wireframes. These are based on the physical design where we define all the resolutions, screen sizes, screen positions, and the areas that the steering wheel is preventing to be seen. These are the questions that we have to answer before we actually begin the prototype.

Prototyping and UX innovation

Prototyping itself is playing a huge role in our UX innovation and we're taking the concept design and basing the prototype on top of that. The prototype will be evolved alongside the concept, so we're keeping the focus on improving the motion design controls and interactions, so that everything is functioning on a satisfactory level. The iteration of the visuals will happen according to the user feedback and functionality that we are testing during the prototyping. Following the concept precisely will help us achieve a higher level of detail and make the prototype feel very polished and realistic for the user. In our eyes, the prototype will also represent the actual form of the HMI, so we will need to be able to reach the same level of usability and user experience.

We also want to keep the prototyping evolution very fast, to be able to quickly build and test. With quick deployment, we'll be able make decisions about the usability and rework the ideas that do not work. We're able to test the positioning of the controls so the layout is building in the most efficient manner to prevent any distractions the user might encounter during the drive.

In our process, we're highlighting the importance of fully functional prototypes because a mock-up sequence of the functionality is unable to provide the answers that we need. An interactive model is more important, so we can get the actual user input and experience when using the product.

We want to conduct this test throughout the project, and we have also introduced new ways of testing. So, we've built environments like virtual reality integrations with Autodesk VRED, where you can test your reach and other interactions directly on your PC from the Kanzi project. These tests are not only taking into account the visual quality, but also the visual quality conducted together within the team, a team that we see as a foundation for the project.

Building a high-performing team

A note about our team preference: the team consists of multitalented people that can participate in different parts of the process and we have three key profiles that are working in parallel processes.

The first profile will be the Visual Designer, who is in charge of the visual style, creating parts of the prototype, and defining transitions, animations, and the concepts. The key tools for Visual Designers can be considered Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, Sketch, and maybe even 3D modeling software.

The second team member is a Technical Designer, mostly in charge of implementing the visual states and defining interactions, connecting the data with the UI, customizing the rendering, optimizing, actually building the interactions, and creating the user experience. Key tools for Technical Artists would be 3D modeling software, basic knowledge in Photoshop, and also especially Kanzi Studio. Real-time rendering background can be seen as very beneficial in this role.

The third, last profile (but not least), is the Software Engineer, who will be in charge of implementing business logic, integrating external services, creating plugins, developing application code, and further optimizing the performance. The Software Engineer will be providing the tools for the Technical Artist to be able to create a good user experience.

Developing an efficient workflow

Both these processes are iterative. In between, if we go from the team into the workflow, if we want to allow a smooth progress with the project, we have found this to be very efficient throughout the development cycle ,and we have experience from multiple projects using this workflow.

In the first process, we implement the concept design and we start validating the usability and user experience between the Visual Designer and the Technical Artist. This prevents the functionalities that are not reaching a satisfactory level of user experience from entering the production process, which helps us save a lot of effort. Basically, it means that we don't need to productize and optimize the content for the features that we don't consider finalized enough.

After we reach usability and design acceptance, we move on to the second process and start to work on optimizing and productizing the architecture and the logic. When the feature enters this process, we already know the feature has a high level of usability and meets expected requirements. So, we're able to concentrate on the functionalities that have proven to work for the user. In Kanzi Services, we've seen that a well-built team and well-built workflow ensures a smooth and easy, efficient process.

Case Study: 2020 Karma Revero GT & GTS

In one example of a project that has adapted this workflow and this kind of team, we recently published a case study with Karma Automotive. The case study is available through this URL. So, something about Karma: Karma Automotive is a small luxury OEM with a clear vision on their products. The case study shows how this relatively small company was very rapidly able to create a stunning and distinctive user experience. The study shows that we're not taking into account only the look-and-feel of the HMI, but in addition, the user experience is able to reflect the brand and identity of the company. Achieving this level of implementation will help you bring your user experience to a whole new level.

A valuable lesson is that the next-generation vehicles now have a lot more functionality than the previous generation, when we have all the sensors coming in, as mentioned before. This leads to the user experience becoming much more than just media and navigation; it's the whole feeling inside the cabin. To make the user experience feel superior, we need to answer a lot of questions and to be able to realize the implementation in such detail that we don't have to make any compromises. Also, we have to be able to react to things like, how does the temperature inside the cabin feel, or is the volume of the media pleasant?

As mentioned, the starting point is understanding the team and its members’ actions that you need to consider during this development cycle. As they say, time is money, and in a time-compressed schedule, you need to achieve a user experience that is both appealing and extremely functional. When the Karma Automotive team was starting in 2015 and 2016, it was just a few HMI engineers and some support from Kanzi Services, and the team could deliver both cluster and IVI in just a matter of months.

When Karma upgraded the HMIs for the 2020 GT and GTS, the team had two designers and three engineers building on top of the Revero platform and underlying assets, and they were able to bring out the new HMI with new services and upgraded visuals in only 12 to 18 months. Just to give some idea, usually this kind of project takes 24 to 36 months and a team of 30 people or more.

Parting words

I sincerely appreciate that I've had this opportunity to present to you all, and if you would like to know more information about Rightware or Kanzi Services, please visit our website. On the slide, you can also see my direct email. In case there is anything you would like to have more information about, or have any additional questions afterwards, please don't hesitate to contact me. Thank you.

 Discover best practices for agile HMI prototyping and development to  accelerate UX innovation