For UX/UI designers Katie Naiser and Andrew Han, trust is absolutely necessary – trust in their teams, trust in their missions and trust in their intuition. They’re two designers among the many people at Toyota Connected North America (TCNA) who help to instill that same confidence within millions of customers they serve.
Before touchscreens and infotainment systems, user experience and user interface (UX/UI) used to simply mean interior ergonomics. As cars have become more connected, the term become synonymous with how drivers and passengers interact with in-cabin displays.
Trust in Data
Data empowered TCNA and Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) to propose that the latest Toyota Audio Multimedia and Lexus Interface should be designed for a global audience with region-specific variations.
“Our leaders spent a lot of time in Japan,” said Naiser. “We got together because we all had the same goal in mind – to build the best systems for our drivers.”
Naiser continued, “Some drivers in other parts of the world tend to be a lot more patient than U.S. drivers. Those in other regions may take more time to familiarize themselves with a particular system.”
Driving speeds and display languages can obviously vary quite a bit different from region to region.
This is where Naiser’s expertise comes into play, focusing on the Cloud Navigation experience. She pores through data, including third-party surveys, customer clinics, supplier feedback and forums, she is able to better understand the needs and expectations of Toyota and Lexus customers.
Naiser points to helping design a look and a feel that complements vehicles’ interiors. When she and her colleagues took the Cloud Navigation system they helped design from the bench test unit to the Lexus NX early on to test it in the real world, they noticed some of the more nuanced colors could wash out. So, they changed it.
“We were able to push that out without even having to do an over-the-air update,” she said. “That was really cool. That allowed us to create a better mapping experience that was more accessible.”
Trust in Intuition
“There’s a ‘heart’ side to data,” said Han, a senior UX/UI designer working on next-generation technologies. “You can base decisions strictly on in-the-moment data and research, but it's important to broaden your perspective by understanding things like the product landscape, previous learnings and behavioral patterns. This adjacent information helps us build more empathy and design intuition. From there, it's easier to piece a story together that supports the customer and business initiatives.”
Since Toyota sells vehicles to drivers in all different backgrounds, “When your users are everyone, it can be tough to hone in on just one focus group,” said Han.
Naiser echoes those sentiments.
“Good designs come from our testing, recruiting a wide variety of users,” she said. Part of a designer's job is to have a very empathetic mindset and consider an even wider variety of users.
“It’s easy to get bogged down with functional requirements, legal requirements, technical specs and other limitations,” said Naiser. “I always think back to what my manager has taught me throughout the years at TC – what is the most human decision to make here?”
Trust in Experience
Han’s office space has a 1,458-piece Lego car sitting on a shelf just behind his desk.
“I grew up loving Legos and in love with drawing,” he said. “I had my mom sign me up for cartoon-drawing classes; I would be drawing comic books all the time.”
Han always felt at home in the arts, but logic told him he should go into medicine. His experience with high school science classes steered him back, though.
“I wasn’t enjoying it,” he said. “And it wasn’t interesting to me.”
When applying to colleges, Han looked at graphic design programs and realized there could be a future for him there.
In college, Han took a class in Responsible Design – a design philosophy that states goods should be wise as well as clever. In that class, he worked on a mobile app to help train midwives in Ghana detect cervical cancer cells.
“I realized with UX design I could still be creative and make a living out of it,” he said. “It was great. It became what I knew I wanted to do.”
Naiser found her path during her teenage years.
“When I was little, I thought interfaces were just automatically generated,” she said. “You don’t really think that someone had intent behind them. There’s reasoning behind every little square pixel.
“When I was 16, I worked at a restaurant as a hostess, and we did everything by hand. The lack of technology made my job really difficult,” she said. “When I moved to waitressing, the technology to input orders made things even harder.
“It was laid out in a way that just didn’t make sense. I brought my concerns to my manager, who said I should research other options. That’s when I started looking into graphic design.”
Naiser would build her skillset while working as an intern with TCU Athletics and picked up experiences with web design, content management and social media before joining TCNA.
“I really wanted to work for Toyota,” she said. There’s a lot of really cool stuff going on in the tech industry, but I thought it was so cool to design the actual experience inside a car.”
Trust in People
For all the research, education, observations and intuition that go into designing a modern infotainment system, none of it would be possible without being able to trust team members. Toyota Connected and Toyota Motor North America share approximately 40 designers who work on current and future generations of Toyota and Lexus interfaces. That’s a small fraction of the hundreds of TCNA and TMNA Connected Technologies designers and engineers responsible for readying technologies and above those they work with in Japan, India, Europe and elsewhere that TCNA works with daily.
“When you're working with a team, understanding people's communication styles is really important,” Naiser said.
Han takes a similar approach.
“I'm always practicing communicating things in a way that anyone can understand,” Han said.
When speaking with engineers, “I'm not afraid to say, ‘Hey, I don't know,’” Han said. “I like asking every question possible. That helps me take an open-minded approach and learn how to communicate back to others as simply as possible to make sense.”
In their work, Naiser and Han don’t want to simply make another infotainment system; they want to make a cohesive, intuitive and valuable digital cockpit experience that millions of Toyota and Lexus drivers and passengers can enjoy.
“Good UX is invisible,” Naiser said. “Drivers shouldn’t have to think about it. It's something that they can just do. They get in and drive, and it's seamless. To me, that is a good measure of success.”
They look at their roles with reverence and a huge weight of responsibility to build the best systems they can. Trusting others – both their teams and the people the customers they design systems for – is vital providing the best experiences in Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
“The best part about designing for millions of users is you get a lot of feedback,” Naiser said. “We work within an organization that empowers us to respond to that feedback that values kaizen – constant improvement. It's an awesome feeling.”