Humanizing Design

The Time Spent in Self-Driving Cars

The Time Spent in Self-Driving Cars

Our team has enjoyed working with a range of companies in the automotive industry to create products and services that address the evolving landscape of ground transportation.

Interest in self-driving automobiles is growing and the market is moving fast: Tesla will be releasing its software update this Thursday to include autopilot mode in its Model S, and Google is making significant progress toward releasing its own self-driving automobile.

This fast-paced transformation is ushering in a new array of needs and expectations for users.  If the car is handling the responsibility of steering, accelerating and braking, then how will the passengers spend their time, energy and focus? People who were once drivers will now be riders, giving them the opportunity to engage with their vehicles in more productive and personal ways.

Our UX team decided to engage in an exercise where we designed functionalities that would provide new ways for people to engage with automobiles, particularly related to the in-car, self-driving experience.

For this exercise, we time-boxed ourselves to 60 minutes and would like to share with you the three ideas we came up with:

Idea #1: Drive Therapy, from Annette Neu

Annette Neu’s idea came from an NPR program called Two Guys on Your Head, you can listen to it here. In the particular episode, the hosts talked about the benefits of virtual therapy. Specifically they referenced a computer program called Eliza that would ask users an initial question such as, “What would you like to talk about today?” then ask follow up questions based on the user’s initial response. These follow up questions would try and pull out key phrases of the previous response to prompt further reflection. The response from users, according to the hosts, was extremely positive. People liked having a safe place to reflect and process out loud. This is in line with other findings that have shown the positive effects of journaling on cognitive processing and emotional expression.1

Annette’s idea was to create a car app that gives the rider an option to process thoughts or experiences out loud. Similar to the experience with Eliza, a voice would ask riders seed questions and follow up questions based on their response. The rider’s responses would then be catalogued in a journal for later reflection.  

See Annette’s storyboard below:


Also if you want to give Eliza a try for yourself you can find her here.

Idea #2: Stop and Look Around, from Anna Krachey

Anna is a UX Designer at Handsome who also is an accomplished photographer and photography professor. Her work focuses on seeing the strange in the everyday or the ordinary. Anna thinks of drivetime as an isolated place to process thoughts and notice the world around her. She fears losing that time and space when cars become driverless; that time may transition from being psychologically productive into more time looking at applications like Instagram.  Her idea is for a car application that automatically removes certain functionality from the phone while the car is in motion, and prompts riders to see the uniqueness in the at-first-glance ordinary things that they regularly drive past.

See Anna’s storyboard below:


Idea #3: CarSpace, from Jonathan Lewis

This third concept by Jonathan Lewis, Director of UX at Handsome, was inspired by Headspace, a mobile app that walks users through guided meditations. Jonathan thought it would be interesting if the car became a place where riders and/or drivers were challenged to not necessarily meditate, as that might be dangerous, but to maintain a sense of peace and awareness.

The feedback about how successful a rider or driver was at accomplishing this goal would be given in the form of biometrics such as heart rate (reduced heart rate is a sign of a more relaxed and peaceful disposition).

Users could then see data about what types of trips were more stressful than others and that may prompt more interesting reflection and route changes. For example, what if an application would change your route from one that historically has caused a rise in heart rate to a more stress-free route. Or what if every time you went to a certain location or to visit a certain person you had an increased heart rate? Would that information be useful or interesting? Quite possibly.

See Jonathan’s storyboard below:


We are eagerly anticipating the future of transportation and look forward to help shaping it to see what new products and services emerge as our relationship with cars evolves. If you are working on helping solve this experience, please get in touch.

  1. Ullrich, Philip M, and Susan K Lutgendorf. “Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 24.3 (2002): 244–250. Web.



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