Tesla Model X Supercharger charging

Elements of Experience Design: The Consequence of Context

Experience Design is one of the biggest and most important trends in the changing automotive landscape. As automakers grapple with the future of an industry that can no longer continue to pursue ‘business as usual’ it’s inevitable that changes must occur. In this third part of our Experience Design series we explore the importance of context.

In the first article in this series we looked at how poor customer experience threatens car manufacturers. The second showed that customers’ needs or jobs-to-be-done (JTBDs) focus product development on things that are useful to customers, and useful things contribute to excellent customer experience. In this third article, we look at the importance of understanding the context in which customers meet their needs.

Within any job-to-be-done, there is a pragmatic component — the objective customer need. There’s also a compelling emotional component. This aspect embodies the subjective requirements related to the customer’s values and how the customer wants to feel. It also integrates how the customer wants others to see them.

Researching the American premium market
Researching the American premium market in Boston, MA. Image by the author

To understand this emotional aspect, we need to explore the worldview of the customer. We can discern this through their fears, motivations, and values. We also need to identify the influences on their worldview, because they will impact their attitudes and behaviors.

In our daily work, we reach this understanding through ethnographic research. It’s an approach that allows us to observe customers’ behavior in-context. Whether it’s in their home, workplace or car, observation enables us to identify the jobs-to-be-done. We combine observation with a variety of interview techniques then allow us to understand why, in customers’ own words, they engage in that behavior. How customers express themselves reveals a lot about the fears, motivations, and values at play when trying to get a job done.


Cadillac’s “N’est pas?” commercial for the ELR hybrid set a nationalistic tone for the brand.


We identify influences on customers’ behavior and attitudes by analyzing the culture surrounding them. We explore family beliefs and popular culture. We might explore political discourse in their country. The latest business scandal might be relevant, as might the launch of a new product in a different category. These sorts of external factors have the potential to shape a customer’s expectations of a brand and the experience they offer.

This rich contextual data is invaluable when designing a customer experience. It can shape the physical design of a product or the mental model of a piece of software. It can influence the flow of information throughout a service, and the critical messages used in branding and advertising. When customers see their worldview reflected back at them, they’re more likely to engage.

Again, Tesla shows they understand the practical and emotional aspects of customer experience.

Tesla Model X Supercharger charging
Tesla owners only. The Supercharger network helps build the image of members-only exclusivity around the Tesla brand.

Tesla’s Superchargers answer the JTBD of ‘I need to charge my car’. However, they do so in two ways that differentiate them from the competition.

Practically, Superchargers are faster and simpler to use than those for other cars. Emotionally, however, Tesla’s Superchargers elevate the charging experience to another realm. Their unique design reinforces the sense of belonging to an exclusive club. This ‘membership’ is a subtle-but-important social-emotional component of Tesla ownership.

It’s by integrating the Supercharger deep into the experience, however, that Tesla has addressed the primary, personal emotional need of many electric vehicle owners: the fear of running out of range. The navigation system knows the status and location of all Superchargers. As a result, it allows an owner to plan their route by balancing range and proximity to charging points.

In addition to meeting the practical JTBD of helping a customer reach their destination, the Supercharger also meets some emotional needs.

Superchargers don’t just keep Teslas charged. Their integration into the Tesla experience helps customers meet their emotional needs, too.

But as we’ve hinted, there’s more to excellent customer experience. Yes, we need to understand the customer’s jobs-to-be-done. We also need to understand and reflect the emotional and social context of those jobs. To deliver a cohesive customer experience, however, we need an underlying platform.

We’ll explore the power of platforms in the next article in this series.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.