It’s no secret Austin is full of energy, smart people, and innovative ideas, so it’s no surprise Google chose the city of Handsome’s headquarters as the second location to roll out its self-driving cars.
We didn’t think we could get more excited about seeing these cars in action, until we heard last week that our very own Annette Neu’s artwork had been chosen by Google to appear on a select few cars driving in town. We sat down with her on Friday, the night before Google hosted her and the Handsome family for an art gallery reveal of the winners’ work, to get to know her background, inspirations, and thoughts on the future of automated transportation.
What’s your background? And how did you get started in the User Experience (UX) design world?
I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Advertising. I studied to become an art director, and started working at an advertising agency after graduating. In this position, I crafted a lot of content like email campaigns and banner advertisements. I enjoyed it, but felt constricted by the scope and disconnected from the end user.
Two years into my career, I met Nash Grey, currently a UX Director in the same field as us, and he opened my eyes to the interconnectivity of every aspect of the user’s journey. I learned the user experience doesn’t stop with a single project, and if you can build a proper, simple map to connect all the steps in the journey, then the user will have a much more meaningful and enjoyable experience. I took this new perspective and transitioned to a career in UX, where I still incorporates a good amount of traditional visual design work.
What are your design inspirations?
Right now everybody looks at Dribbble. I love it because of what it represents: the community is so passionate about what they do; they’re so dedicated to being better every single day. The work is never stale, so there’s always something new and exciting to explore.
Outside of Dribbble, I also find cities inspiring. My favorite would have to be New Orleans: the art, buildings and community make it a fun place to feel inspired and find something new & interesting to interact with.
What inspires you about Austin?
Austin is a healthy, thriving and vibrant. Everybody here is excited about what’s next; instead of sticking with the status quo, Austin is all about discovering and testing new things. Being on the forefront of new technologies and ideas makes the city so special.
Tell us about how you came up with your design for #PaintTheTown.
Google’s theme for the designs was my neighbors and my community. Hands down, a shared experience for all Austinites is music. Whether it be a music festival, a DJ set, or a live recording, we all have an important memory revolving around music.
I played around with a lot of different music themes, but nothing was coming together, so I tabled the project for a while. Then, when visiting my mom, I started observing her old record player from above. Looking at it from above, I could instantly see how the shapes would work great on the side of the Google car.
The key constraint with the design was the blue LED light on the panel. Instead of ignoring it and working around it, I decided to incorporate it as the arm of the record player.
What prompted you to submit a design for the project?
I work at a really great company. Handsome encourages people to always be learning by thinking, designing, and creating not just for clients but for ourselves. Arash Zafarnia, our Director of Marketing, encouraged everyone to enter the contest for themselves because it’s such a unique and interesting project.
What excites you about Google bringing their self-driving cars to Austin?
I hate driving, so I’m very excited about the idea of driverless cars coming to Austin. 95% of all traffic deaths are caused by human error, and I myself have gotten in some pretty bad accidents. I hate being on the highway, especially now with the congestion. Driverless cars would be very cool to take part in, and I hope the change grows.
It’s also cool because we get to do something ahead of the rest of the country. I love that. I love that our city is viewed as progressive, that we get to try things out and give input before anyone else. I think it’s a great thing for the city.
How is it going to feel to see your design driving around town?
The Google self-driving car itself may feel unfamiliar to some, because it is taking away all the controls from humans. Adding artwork to the sides was a great decision by Google, because it adds a human element back to the car after taking so much of it away. Seeing my own art on the cars, personally, I think it’s fun. It makes me feel close to Austin and I’m very excited.
How smoothly do you foresee self-driving cars will be adopted?
Researching driving culture for a client, I have learned that, regardless of alternatives, there are people that want to be in control as much as possible. That type of person is never going to go away, but there’s a large percentage of people who love Uber and love not having to worry about driving. If I could get rid of my car and never have to drive again, I’d be very happy. The people who want to be in control and don’t want to give up their cars could make the argument that driverless cars are one more step towards a dystopian future, but I don’t think that argument is founded – they basically just don’t want to give up their cars.
What do you see as the future of transportation?
I see the future as a combination of several things.
For car companies, there is a growing focus of mobility as a whole: they’re less focussed on selling individual cars and instead are selling mobility options, whether that’s shared vehicles, ride programs, or some combination of people sharing a set of cars.
The infrastructure of cities themselves will progress to incorporate more bike lanes, sidewalks, making cities safer and more walkable.
Autonomous vehicles will be further adopted, ranging from individual consumer cars all the way to semi trucks carrying cargo – I think we’ll see a lot of autonomous trucks in the next 10 to 15 years.
As for people who do continue to drive, I see them driving electric vehicles, like Teslas, versus gas and diesel.
Things are moving in a much better direction than our transportation climate is now. Options are growing and becoming more sustainable. I’m excited for the future.