The annual auto show just wrapped in Chicago and the TC team was on site checking out the latest and greatest in technology and design trends.
I’ll admit, I started the show this year sort of bummed knowing that my favorite manufacturer, BMW, wouldn’t be there. But thanks to a jolt of caffeine from my iced latte and the enthusiastic attitudes of my colleagues, my spirits were lifted, and I was ready to dive in.
Erik and Jillian had joined me at the show in the past, but this was Blue’s first trip with me. I was slightly worried my excessive car speak would freak him out but, fortunately, he’s a car lover too and he joined right in! At one point, we actually had to pry him away from the Mazda exhibit where he was chatting up a rep and getting some exclusive swag.
As you might expect from a group of UXers, we had some thoughts about the show experience, in-car tech, and new features. Here are some of our main takeaways:
The trends from previous years persisted.
Similar to recent years, many manufacturers offered swanky lounges for attendees to retreat from the crowds and keep people in their booth and focused on their lineup.
The integration of infotainment screens is evolving.
When we jumped into the driver’s seats to experience the vehicles, we encountered a basic challenge across many manufacturers – infotainment systems were powered off. While we understand the rationale, the group became increasingly disappointed as we walked from car to car trying to find an operable system to explore. After all, the infotainment systems are one of the top interactive components in the vehicle and have a huge influence on the car’s overall experience. Preventing attendees from experimenting with these systems felt like a missed opportunity.
What we did take note of as trained Industrial Designers and car enthusiasts was the integration of the infotainment screen into the physical dash design. Manufacturers execution of this integration varied, from a floating tablet screen, to a full integrated screen, and now the “in-between screen.”
The “in-between” screen: Lastly, we noticed several manufacturers using a frame or bezel-like structure around their infotainment screens to make them appear more integrated into the dash design. Hyundai and Toyota, shown above, implement this style with eccentric shapes and a lot of extra plastic. Cadillac’s version is more subtle, using premium materials to shape the screen bezel.
A tailgate that is a step above.
One feature that really caught our eye was GMC’s new and noteworthy Sierra 1500 tailgate. It has several unique configurations, which provide fresh functionality and interaction with the cargo area.
Overall, our team was impressed by the thoughtful functionality of this design and explored the configurations for some time. Well, until the GMC reps had enough of my shenanigans and started giving me the side-eye. To be honest, I’m pretty clumsy and I’m surprised that I didn’t lose a finger.
We love a clean line.
Lastly, we wanted to call out a few examples of aesthetic design that we appreciated at the show:
After a few hours I was ready for a second lap around the show, but the caffeine had worn off for the rest of the team.