DETROIT — Building on success can be tough.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Uconnect infotainment platform has garnered a sterling reputation for its ease of use. There was no need for designers to reinvent the wheel for the fifth-generation system, which is slated to debut later this year.
The team took an evolutionary, not revolutionary, approach. FCA took consumer feedback to heart on how to improve the system and focused on making often-used functions such as seat heaters easier to find, said Vince Galante, the automaker's chief designer of user experience.
At a media preview of the new Uconnect system, Galante spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. about how FCA sought to improve the user experience. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Uconnect has a great reputation already. How did you build on that, and was it hard?
A: It was hard to do. A lot of work, a lot of cross-functional work with not just design, but we have a (human machine interface) team as well, an engineering team, so we worked with a lot of teams. We did a lot of testing. We've done a lot of driving. I had a system in my car last year for two, three months and we were trying it out. I tested on my kids. I used my kids, I tested on my mom, I tested on my wife. It's a lot of pressure because we know today's is so good. What you saw today was an evolution of what we have today; we didn't completely blow it up.
We tried to focus on the areas that the customer said could be even easier. So the heated seats was one. That's one of the No. 1 things: We've have to get to heated seats easy. I think the home screen is going to be a really good one. Everybody loves the system because you can get most everywhere in just two touches.
What do you do in one, what would that look like? I consider a swipe not a touch because you don't have to look, so we've got a lot of areas where we got it to one touch. Those are some of the things where we tried to evolve the system, being able to access popular stuff quicker.
The second thing on the design side was every time you switch apps, things are located in a logical way that's consistent throughout, so you're not relearning. On the radio screen, the presets are at the bottom, the toggles are at the bottom. On the phone screen, if you want to toggle between two phones, it's at the bottom. If you're in the app drawer and you want to filter between different categories of things, it's in the same place as the categories would be on the media section. So we did a lot of little tricks like that to try to take what we've done really well with Uconnect and make it even better.
Were there any complaints about the previous system that you wanted to fix?
Heated seats was a big one. We wanted to make sure that we have a lot of content, and so we would get a lot of comments. We do a lot of work with J.D. Power. We get a lot of customer data and because there's so much content coming into these screens, there could be a lot on the screen at once. So we paid very close attention to try to reduce content where we could in the right places, but also use design to simplify the way it looked and make it easier on the eyes. Some of the features like off-road pages, SRT pages, PHEV pages, heated seats — things like that that you had to dig for in today's system, we tried to bring those to the surface.
FCA brought video game designers in to its design team. How does their perspective help on this system?
You'll see some of that starting to come in some of the clusters and stuff we're going to do in the future. We've got people in the studios that are video game designers, got people in studios that came from Web design. There's a lot of technology out there now that people are really used to. I use the example of video games or Marvel movies. There's a certain expectation for what visuals should look like, so if that's the expectation, let's get the people that know it best, and how do we bring those people in and use some of those kind of things that are outside automotive to help elaborate and grow the system inside the car.
It's a lot of fun to try to bring those different skill sets in the studio and use them in a way that delights people and also applies to automotive.