Yesterday evening, as the clouds rumbled and rain poured upon Melbourne, a small group of Royals were lucky enough to partake in an international meeting of minds and sharing of ideas with some inspiring German geeks from the Audi Product and Innovation Department and a couple of big (and likeable) brains from RMIT. The discussion rocketed through issues close to all groups’ hearts such as computer interface design, passive and contextual notification, and the eternal balance between form and function. It became clear that technology, regardless of whether its context is marketing or motoring needs to be aware of a sort of ‘positive compromise’. It’s only through compromise and balance that it can achieve its true function and optimum potential most effectively.
Take interface design for instance – there is an almost limitless volume of information that a manufacturer like Audi could display; current and forecasted weather, personalised news updates, incoming calls, proximity to networked friends or a multitude of contextually aware social notifications. The modern car buyer thinks they want, to quote British-metal-band-with-an-umlaut Motörhead, “everything louder than everything else”. They’re prepared to pay a premium to be enveloped in modern technology, flashing lights, bells & whistles. However, this hyper-functionality will often come at a sacrifice to aesthetics, ease of use, a purist driving sensation, and ultimately vehicle safety. As such a compromise leading to a more elegant solution must be made.
Audi, RMIT and The Royals are all enamoured with the possibilities of “humble”, or “glanceable” notification systems – methods of communicating information in an unobtrusive, peripheral manner. This could take the form of subtle audio or lighting signals or through haptic feedback. However, getting a driver to understand this text-free information without a steep learning curve involving a new semiotic language is understandably incredibly challenging. This delicate dance between usability, impact and restraint is hugely important when it comes to keeping your focus on the road as you take a fast corner in your R8, a part of your mind free to take in other useful information.
Another issue we riffed on – a concept I personally hadn’t spent much time considering – was the importance of providing an exemplary driving experience to everyone in the vehicle, particularly the passengers. At the top end of the luxury segment, the owners of the car often aren’t the ones driving it. Tapping into another one of our collective passion-points we discussed the burgeoning potential of second screen experiences. In car passenger entertainment systems aren’t new – and neither are iPhones or iPads, however currently these largely operate entirely independently of each other. This is a huge area of opportunity to involve the passenger actively and safely in the luxury driving experience through the device they already carry with them.
In true style, the evening carried on to additional beers and burgers at our favourite local haunt the Richmond Hotel, the hereto measured conversation spiralling gently towards the more theoretical and progressive realms of technology, psychology and philosophy… another post entirely..
Thanks to RMIT’s Dr. Steffen Walz for organising the meetup!