Ford moves away from car features to car “experiences”

How design considerations permeate the typical Ford car is more extensive than you might think, according to Parrish Hanna, the automaker’s global director for the human machine interface.

That initial two-second impression you get when you first open the driver door and glimpse at a car interior has a huge impact on your decision to buy. The design of the instrument cluster can either give a driver pleasure or mounting annoyance for years to come. And the way a new autonomous driving feature is implemented can either seem perfectly natural or freak the hell out of you.

“We need to design an impression, an impression for the first time and an impression for every time you use that vehicle,” Hanna said, speaking at Gigaom’s Roadmap conference on Wednesday.

While that focus has been mainly on industrial design throughout Ford’s century-long existence, Ford is now venturing into the world of digital design, shifting much of the design focus to the interior controls of the vehicle, Hanna said. Consequently, Ford has been hiring up people like Hanna to build the car interface of the future, and a lot of the features being envisioned aren’t coming out of Dearborn, Michigan, but rather Silicon Valley, he added.

One of the biggest results of that shift is Ford is now less focused on “features” — which in typical cars can number in the hundreds — to “experiences.” Ford is adding more displays, more information and more ways to customize that information as well as semi-autonomous driving technologies that anticipate your actions before you make them. It’s wrestling with the design problem of tying all of those feature together in a coherent way without changing the fundamental “stereotypes” of the car: the steering wheel, the shifter and the speedometer, Hanna said.

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