The challenge. The field of commercial vehicles and logistics is a very specialized one within the automotive industry. With a keen focus on issues like connectivity, infotainment, automation and driver assistance, there are also significant economic pressures on all stakeholders. Furthermore, the fact that the vehicle is the drivers’ workplace, where they will potentially spend decades of their working lives, cannot be overlooked either. Against this background, MAN, the Munich-based commercial-vehicle manufacturer, sought the assistance of designaffairs to develop a “digital-driver workplace” for its new generation of trucks and coaches.
In this case study, we would like to share the approach we adopted to working with MAN on this challenge, the obstacles we faced and the final outcome of our collaboration, which saw an interdisciplinary designaffairs team of more than 20 colleagues ─ including visual designers, usability engineers and creative technologists ─ working in close cooperation with the client.
The mission. The goal of the project was the development of a holistic system that covers all of the digital touchpoints within the truck´s cabin – the so called digital-driver workplace. For designaffairs, a top priority of ours was to focus on the end user ─ the driver who will operate the system during their daily working routine. Our bottom-line objective was to ensure maximum driver safety while giving them the ability to fulfil their everyday logistical tasks as efficiently as possible. This in turn meant making sure the driver had easy access to all the available information they need to do their job, including efficient route planning, updates about the truck’s status and their remaining permitted driving time.
Our design concept targets all types of truck driver ─ from the novice to the very experienced and from young tech-savvy drivers to older hands.
By optimizing our design for reachability and readability ─ and to ensure we combined MAN’s brand values with the latest style trends ─ our aim was to ensure that drivers are guided through the system as easily as possible to access all the functions as they are required.
Some truck manufacturers have focused on simply transferring digital features – such as touchscreens for example – from cars into commercial vehicles without considering the important differences that exist between the two types of vehicle. MAN’s approach, however, was to focus specifically on the unique environment of a truck cabin, including the important influence of a shaking suspended seat that is very different from anything encountered in a private car.
With MAN’s new TGX system, the driver’s individual needs were analyzed in detail to optimize the interactions for the very specific use cases of a commercial vehicle.
The TGX project focuses on three interconnected but independently operable digital-driver touchpoints: the instrument cluster, the infotainment system and the Interior Remote Control (IRC). Each of these touchpoints features its own truck-specific controls and content in order to ensure the driver can intuitively manage all of their everyday tasks ─ whether driving, loading or resting ─ with the minimum of effort or distraction.
The process. To deliver our three-pronged interaction design concept for the driver digital workplace, we adopted an iterative and agile approach in close collaboration with the MAN design and HMI team. During the project, the most important element of all was our constant and direct communication with the client. This ensured we could react quickly to any changes in the brief due to evolving technological developments and client requirements, as well as the all-important user-experience feedback, too.
The general workflow for the project can be described as follows:
After discussing the basic functional requirements with MAN, our first step was to produce some rough-concept ideas. These illustrations, or scribbles, were usually quick pen-and-paper drawings that allowed us to share our first impressions and visualize our concept ideas from the outset. After the rough concepts were approved, the scribbles were then developed into deeper designs and specification levels.
- Design Drafts
For us, user-centered design lies at the very heart of good design. In parallel to the scribbles, we also translated the requirements and concept variations directly into visual-design drafts, creating different options in order to choose the best variant. Only after bringing all of the most important elements together it is possible to evaluate the various criteria and make final design decisions in terms of the grid, colors, alignment, readability and positioning of the different elements.
- Design & HMI Specs
After consolidating the concept and design drafts, detailed specifications were created. This consisted of an overarching description of the operating principles that apply to all systems within the vehicle, detailed descriptions of driver behavior and its interaction with the system’s different elements and functional specification. For the visual design, processable Photoshop files were created in order to give the developers all the information they needed, from text sizes to colors and distances, accompanied by a detailed text document to explain all of the general and specific design parameters.
For each of the 3 systems a prototype was created in order not only to test the different functions but to also ensure that the animations and user flows could be easily validated in a hands-on way. With this prototypes, valuable input for the implementation of operating and design principles can be provided. The digital prototypes was then connected to the truck’s hardware and input devices, which allowed the design and development team to test the whole system and its variations. The prototypes also allowed us to test the concept with users for concept validation under a variety of testing scenarios.
- User Testing
During the development process, user testing and driver feedback played an essential role.
Evaluating the HMI and design concepts with drivers and experts on tests tracks, driving simulators and table mock-ups helped us to achieve the best results in an iterative process. This testing enabled us to directly transform user needs into final concepts and deliver a system that substantially helps the driver to fulfil everyday tasks in a straightforward and intuitive way.
- System Testing
At the end of the process, a check between HMI and the design specifications against the existing implementation needed to be carried out. So we went into the truck and checked the current implementation by giving detailed descriptions on elements that needed improvement. System testing can be done through multiple approaches ─ page by page, state by state and design by design, or via specific use cases. The latter was our chosen method in this. Our findings were then documented as tickets and progress of advancing the implementation was tracked in terms of the various specifications.
The outcome. Not only was the client delighted with our final design concept, our efforts also received rave reviews in the trade press and from users. When the new MAN Truck generation was launched, the universal approval for our digital driver workplace was all the proof we needed that our collaboration had been a resounding success. We are very proud of our work and we are very happy that we were able to support MAN in this challenging task, thanks to our broad expertise across UX design, technology and our deep automotive experience.
Thanks to the very close collaboration with designaffairs we were able to create an outstanding HMI which takes user experience of commercial vehicles to the next level.
Another measure of our success was the design awards that MAN and designaffairs were nominated for in 2020 as a result of our work. In particular, winning a prestigious Red Dot Design Award was a highlight, as was our nomination for a UX Design Award. To be recognized by your peers is always a pleasure ─ and a ringing endorsement that you are doing something right!
We look forward to tackling new challenges in the automotive sector and are confident our innovative solutions will continue to bring added value to all of our clients.