Can sensor technology exist on and enhance the open road? I worked in a 4-person team to design an in-car app that creates momentary connections between car travelers.
user research // competitive analysis, interviewing, speed-dating, customer journey map, stakeholder models
prototyping // wizard-of-oz, hi-fidelity mockups
communication presentation, video, documentation
HOW DO WE CREATE AN EPHEMERAL CONNECTION BETWEEN TRAVELERS?
For many of us, a road trip defines a seminal period of exploration in our lives — whether these travels evoke idyllic childhood vacations, the newfound freedom of adolescence, or a great move across the country. During these trips, the time spent inside the car is often discounted and forgotten. The destination is the focal point; the journey itself is lost.
We want to recapture the sense of spontaneity and curiosity that we derive from a long drive, a confined space, and a destination. We want to evoke the sense of wanderlust and open-mindedness that encouraged travelers to start driving in the first place.
We envision a more memorable travel experience that leaves people with positive memories from within the car. How can we highlight that experience and create more of a sense of presence inside the car? Can existing and future sensors in the car enhance the journey?
project lead // I managed the overall timeline and led the direction of the project.
research // I conducted interviews and led the wizard-of-oz experiment.
product design // I designed the workflow and mockups of the Wisp service.
WISP: A SERVICE FOR LONG-DISTANCE TRAVEL
Wisp is an in-car application that allows passengers in different cars to create or pick up "Wisps"—snippets of videos, playlists, or sightseeing recommendations made by travelers, for other travelers. The app senses your context and location, and naturally integrates with existing car interfaces. Wisps are ephemeral: they are made for you, and after viewing them, they disappear. The application explores what it means to create a fleeting community in a setting where people would ordinarily never meet.
OUR PROCESS: UNDERSTANDING CARS AS AN IOT PLATFORM
In order to understand the IoT space for cars and the existing services available to travelers, we conducted secondary research and a competitive analysis. We mapped out existing sensors within a vehicle, as well as emerging technology that we could leverage in the near future.
Our early sketches evolved into a spider diagram that modeled important sensors within a car
MAPPING THE CURRENT STATE OF ROAD TRIPS
To understand the potential value of this service, we considered likely stakeholders and modeled typical points of interest for long-distance travelers. Unsurprisingly, sharing economy services like Uber and Airbnb are increasingly popular in this space, especially with younger travelers. In particular, we were interested in capturing a shared travel experience among strangers.
We interviewed 8 users between the ages of 19 and 68. While all of them had some experience with long-distance car travel, not everyone was enthusiastic about driving. We learned about their painpoints and favorite moments. Because some of the negative experiences were unpredictable and not easily mitigated, we chose to focus on increasing their enjoyment through other means.
An early customer journey map shows the frustrations of the car traveling experience.
Our stakeholder model highlights some potential opportunities with other services along a roadtrip.
We conducted several rounds of ideation to brainstorm service opportunities. These ideas fall into categories like productivity in the car, data collection and visualization, in-car conversation, trip planning, connecting strangers beyond the car, and itinerary suggestions.
Based on user feedback, potential value, and feasibility, we storyboarded 5 of these ideas. We asked 16 potential users questions about these scenarios to understand their needs and motivations for travel.
TESTING THE SERVICE
We tested our ideas with simulations of the experience. To conduct our user enactments, we took our wizard-of-oz prototype on the road—on two road trips with different sets of users. We tested various forms of media and delivery methods (SMS vs. vocal). We received generally positive feedback that shaped the rest of our service:
• Users can rate or rank users rather than content pieces (to keep content quality high).
• Users can filter the content they receive.
• Users preferred the ephemeral, minimal nature of service - they did not want to save the content or be able to chat with the other cars.
• The users, not the service, should determine their optimal frequency of notifcations.
• Future design ideas include more interaction with the external environment (e.g. projected content that appeared on billboards, interactions that used AR to transform the scenery or the car itself).
Though we have created a future-state service for long-distance travel, we also have many current avenues of exploration for this service.
A minimum viable product might include:
• Additional user testing with hi-fi mockups
• Phone application deployment
A future service might include:
• Expanded service for long-distance commuters
• Expand features that incorporates augmented reality into the car platform
• Interactions with the external environment (e.g., billboards)
One of our user enactments recreated the service in an SMS format.
WHAT I LEARNED
The project intersected along many different design considerations: imagining cars as an Internet of Things platform, visioning for future technologies, user testing benefits and drawbacks of ubiquitous computing, and defining business value. While we did not want to compromise our ideal vision of future technology, defining a value flow that any product needs to survive required that we think about a current minimum viable product.