When people think about user experience, most gravitate toward the idea of interfaces, or, simply put, screens. With technological content increasingly prevalent in cars, it’s easy to assume that the human-machine interface (HMI) is the dominating factor in UX. But the user interface (UI) is only one small part of UX.
Indeed, it could be argued that UX and UI are two entirely different things requiring a different set of deliverables, and therefore perhaps even a different team of people to execute. Rivian’s head of design Jeff Hammoud, whom I spoke to briefly for an upcoming episode of the FORMCAST podcast, doesn’t even lead a team of UXers. Being so deeply rooted in technology and software, Rivian’s UX team is actually part of Engineering, not Design.
This rather lengthy introduction brings me to the main topic of this article: Škoda’s new smart seat belt buckles, for which the VW Group brand was granted a worldwide patent. The smart buckle is a new system that has been developed by the brand’s Simply Clever labs. Here’s how it works.
The Škoda smart buckle features a clear transparent button in place of the traditional red eject button. The new button features a pair of multicolor RGB LEDs that operate in two modes. In standard mode with nobody in the seat, the LEDs glow white to show the passenger where the buckle is located at night.
When a passenger sits in the seat, a weight sensor in the seat base recognizes the presence of a person and the LED changes to red – indicating that the occupant should put their seat belt on. Once the buckle is engaged, the LED changes to green to signal a successful engagement and then back to white.
A Škoda-style crystalline pattern on the clear plastic button spreads the light to make the whole button glow. The buckles can also be programmed to have an animated welcome sequence to make them even more noticeable in dark environments.
The Škoda smart buckles are an extremely simple yet useful solution borne out of enhancing the user’s experience with the vehicle. The feature is particularly helpful for parents – they can immediately see if their children have either forgotten to fasten their belt or have not engaged the buckle correctly. And they needn’t stretch out from the front seat to do so.
The smart illuminated seat belt buckle is just one of many features devised, designed and engineered in-house at Škoda to make life easier, safer and more enjoyable for owners and drivers. This is the heart of UX. Small touches like this enhance the user’s interaction with the vehicle and make the experience better.
There are , of course, many other aspects that play into UX. It’s all-encompassing. From the initial sight on a TV advertisement to touching the door handle (or phone app), sitting and feeling the fabric in the seat, or hearing the click of the turn signal.
Every year, Škoda Auto files numerous patent applications for ideas and systems. The list of protected innovations also includes carpet mats made of hollow fiber fabric, which are easy to clean and on which dirt is hardly visible. Another patented Škoda invention is a flexible cargo snake that allows boxes, crates and other objects to be positioned more securely in the trunk alongside luggage. All of these feed into the overall UX of the Czech firm’s products.
Innovation is necessary for customers to continue to be impressed by their vehicles. While subscription models and car-sharing systems are purportedly on the upswing, the car industry still relies on customers buying (or leasing) its products. For that, they need to have a good usability factor.
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