Microsoft Connected Car

The cloud-connected car, powered by Microsoft

Microsoft was engaged to create a new infotainment experience inside the car. No area was left untouched. Pillars within the system included: navigation, media, communication, car status and climate as well as voice interaction.

We offered design services as part of a larger multidisciplinary team of user researchers and designers during a 2 year period. We actively participated in user research to create a set of personas and design principles that informed the designs below. Design principles included: voice-first interaction, glanceability, flat simple UI, content first and swipeability.


User Experience Design, Competitive Research


The connected car, swipe and voice-enabled

We designed an integrated system that used voice as its first interaction method, touch and steering wheel buttons second. When using touch, we still wanted to minimize distractions by using swipe as a gesture that doesn’t require accurate targeting.

We limited the number of swipes to 3 in every area of the system for consistency and ease of use. The placement of tasks followed a simple task hierarchy. Primary tasks were on the first panel, secondary tasks on the second panel, and tertiary tasks  were shown on the third panel (mostly available only when parked).

Evolving the Microsoft Design Language for the car

Microsoft had just come out with its unified design language after the release of Windows Phone. Automotive, however, has a very different goal from the phone. While the phone wants to immerse you in the experience, automotive wants to be unobtrusive and at the periphery of your attention. We used motion to communicate meaning, such as when a next turn is coming up. We used the panorama, but limited the number of panels to three so that users knew what to expect from hub to hub. We also explored having notifications “break the grid” of negative space as a way to subtly call attention to the driver.

A glanceable instrument cluster

The instrument cluster was a primary interaction surface due to its presence in front of the driver and at a small angle of deviation from the road. The cluster contained top tasks that could be started using d-pads and finished with voice. The right side of cluster displayed an at-a-glance view of everything that was currently active in the system.

We also made the instrument cluster glanceable so that drivers could get a sense for their speed at the periphery of their attention. The use of more “ink” (pixels) and color-coding helped drivers understand whether or not their were speeding without having to take the eyes off the road.

Extensive competitive review

We started this engagement by doing an extensive competitive review, which resulted in the publication of a book. We reviewed the user experience of nine infotainment systems of top automotive manufacturers. The work on this book informed not only the user experience, but the engineering and business teams as well.

Data-driven designs

In order to come up with the best data-driven designs, we performed a mix of ethnography, dealership visits, global surveys and and iterative usability studies. Ethnography consisted of riding in cars with families from a variety of geographies and observing how they used technology in the car. Finally, the designs were refined with a series of iterative usability studies in the in-house driving simulator.