Volvo: Thought Drop
- Categories →
- Industry Projects
- Interaction Design
Thought Drop is an in-car communication service concept that enables people to drop off and pick up location based messages and reminders. Subscribers can partake in the joy and functionality of location-based messaging coupled with the simplicity of a context-specific interactive experience.
Using in-car GPS services or a mobile phone application, drivers can leave, send and pickup location-based thoughts and reminders for themselves and their friends. The system can also be expanded to avail location-based offers from local businesses and to leave feedback for local governments about road conditions.
How does it work?
When in the car, users have the choice of leaving a location based thought/reminder for themselves that can be retrieved later at some place. These “thought drops” can be (1) sent to their home, (2) left at the current location or (3) kept in the car. Thoughts can also be dropped for a pre-specified set of friends at their homes or on location with minimal effort. The service also has options where by which commercial establishments can leave special discount coupons for Thought Drop users if they wish to receive them. Furthermore, the possibility of leaving drops for municipal authorities for when, say, road work is needed, could also be possible.
Designed to be used on the go, we crafted an interface experience that was sensitive to its context, ie. being on the road. This meant that interface elements had to be glanceable and interactions had to be kept to the bare minimum and not take up too much of the driver’s attention. Audio based messages were chosen as they are easy to “drop” and retrieve without taking one’s eyes off the road.
The starting point of the project was a simple insight that came from a simple observation: people who commute in cars repeatedly in journeys from A to B and back are often lost in their thoughts. These range from the emotive (“I miss the time I used to spend with Jim at that park…”) to the functional (“I need to remember to pick up bread for the dinner.”). In fact, often the actual physical act of being in the car is often a secondary experience whose motor and cognitive functions are dealt with in “autpilot” mode.
We began thinking, what can we do with people’s thoughts in cars? More specifically, we began to explore location based thoughts, and how thoughts are triggered, stored or passed on.
Our Design Process
The project was carried out in partnership with Volvo as part of their “Reconnecting cars” workshop. In designing Thought Drop, we were encouraged by our amazing faculty (Chris Downs, Rory Hamilton, Alix Gillet-Kirt and John Lynch) to prototype quickly, test repeatedly with users (both in and out of context), and constantly improvise and iterate based on our learnings along the way. We were constantly pushed to “be the service.” In total we had about 12 probes and iterations of prototypes that utilized different design methods to move our process forward.
We started off with several location-based interventions to gain insights on how thoughts are triggered and it got us thinking about accessing people’s flow of thoughts on their daily routes.
One particularly fun experiment was on Norrebro bridge, which led us to think deeper about synchronous and asynchronous messaging and the im/permanence of thoughts. The chalk provided a temporary, fun and public way for people to share thoughts without having to get off their daily route.
Along the way, we also used the technique of “physical brainstorming” and video prototyping to simulate the generative possibilities of leaving and picking up location based messages from a vehicle. (See below)
Below is an early video prototype. We were speculating what the experience would be if the windshield was equipped with AR technology. After making this video, we decided audio would be a better option for cars!
Throughout the process, we also conducted several little experiments by deploying cultural probes and prompts in our building and the neighboring area to test out the efficacy of personalized location-based messages. (See below)
But mostly, we focused on the in-car user experience, as that was the most important part of our service. We did several rounds of in-car tests with different drivers, most of whom were using the service for the first time. (See below)
Initially (see above), we thought that we would provide categories of thoughts, such as: logistical, emotional/physcical, thoughts of someone else. But testing with people made us realise that it would be better to let people categorise it as they want and we should provide them with options of where to send the thoughts.
Below is the first experience prototype test we carried out with Ian. He was driving to his wife’s workplace (along with his child) to pick her up. We provided him with options to send thoughts home and leave them on the road. But after observing the way Ian used the prototype, we decided to add the feature of being able to drop thoughts to family and friends as well, as this would broaden the service’s functionality as well as open the possibility of leaving fun messages in interesting places.
After each test we used what we learned to tweak the interface and experience. We continued to test the service right until the last day before we presented to Volvo and the rest of CIID.
Working experience prototype (using prototyping software such as Keynote, Illustrator etc.), final video and presentation for proof of concept, service system diagram and documentation of entire process.
Teammates: Sara Krugman and Ruben van der Vleuten
Context: CIID’s Service Design course which was themed “Reconnecting Cars” (in partnership with Volvo)
Faculty: Chris Downs, Rory Hamilton, Alix Gillet-Kirt, John Lynch.