Can Smart Cars Win Over Jeremy Clarkson with Interface Design?

Designing tomorrow’s smart car inevitably means designing for Jeremy Clarkson. The former host of motor review show Top Gear is famous for unabashed honesty, his comments arguably influential to automobile sales even beyond the program’s home country of the United Kingdom. Yet the unavoidable digitization of this world’s objects means a revolution for all vehicles, constantly communicating data to its drivers, the other cars on the road, insurance and service providers, as well as governance agencies.

While the now former Top Gear co-presenters Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May undergo a technological transition of their own, reassembling for a still unnamed series on Amazon Prime’s streaming video outlet, the trio will undoubtedly tackle the new world of connected cars with keen observation and real world trials.

Clarkson’s crew is a tough sell, gaining global recognition for British highbrow perspective on luxury and low end cars alike. Connected car makers will face the challenge of impressing Clarkson, known for appreciating the authenticity of manual driving over automated controls. But car makers will also have the benefit of learning from a highly established automobile industry and a rapidly evolving Internet culture.

So how does one win over the likes of Jeremy Clarkson?

During a recent interview with User Interface Designer Risto Lahdesmaki, I asked this very question. His company Idean specializes in connected car interfaces, and has worked with top car manufacturers and technology giants including Intel to design a worthy user experience. Idean’s contributions to the connected car revolution were even demoed at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, inching futuristic smart cars closer to mainstream reality.

Working with the best in the business, Lahdesmaki understands the importance of good design when it comes to mass market appeal. The right interface can help educate consumers in the use of new technology, and this first hand experience is exactly what Idean’s founder would want for Clarkson.

“I’d bring him to a prototype car and give him the best experience of his lifetime,”Lahdesmaki said. “Speaking is one thing, showing a video is another. But experience …

“If he doesn’t like it, we go back to the drawing board.”

This attitude of experience and user feedback is crucial to Idean’s design process, especially as the company works with several of the world’s most familiar carmakers. Lahdesmaki hopes to change drivers’ relationships with their vehicles in order to make connected cars a realistic and usable marriage of transportation and technology. For that, Idean must be willing to change with consumer demand and return to the drawing board as needed.

“If you fall in love with an experience, then we’ve done something right,” said Lahdesmaki. “Everyone’s talking about the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, but only a few have been able to show what it means in real life.”

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