Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Co-creation in the Audi Virtual Lab

Audi faced a design challenge in 2004: how to use the lessons learnt from the poor reception of BMW’s iDrive to put together their own user interface.  Their aim was to create the ideal embodiment of intuitive use; consoles that would allow drivers to access information, communication platforms and entertainment that would appeal to different customer segments. It needed to be Vorsprung durch Technic, i.e. advancement through technology.

Enter the Virtual Lab, an online interactive excursion into co-design. It was a process that Audi felt warranted a second run in 2006, but this time across Germany, Japan and USA.

The aims for these invite-only Virtual Labs were reasonably ‘simple’: involve customers in the development of upcoming interior systems by gathering information on customer preferences and trends, in quick and efficient manner. Also, they hoped to gain insight into the co-design process itself; with respect to customer acceptance, the customer’s  perceptions and the quality of user input.
The interactive processes in Audi's Virtual Lab

Bringing together their designers, engineers, IT and marketing pros Audi laid out an interactive experience (shown in the accompanying image), that encouraged the user to design the info-tainment systems to their preference. All the options were there; communications, entertainment, audio, video, navigation, telematics, together with the UI itself. Ultimately, the end-user was now able to designe their potential console layout solely with Audi’s resources.

The participants for the Virtual Lab deliberately included both early adopters and more traditional customers. Audi was looking for insights -not only into what offerings tech-savvy early adopters were most keen on-but also what usability issues other customers may have faced. With BMW’s integrated electronics interface suffering some user-friendly issues, Audi took the right step in consulting those who knew best – their customers.

The lab itself offered a range of options for design: from the ‘easy-mode’ offerings of popular bundled items, to a  more micro-managed level where users were able to select components and layout individually. Many of the systems offered were still in development and only existed virtually, allowing both Audi and their customers to gauge insight into their adoption.

As this article suggests, this process was a success. This form of pre-emptive feedback benefited both customers and Audi. In effect, they were able to alter infotainment prototypes without losing sacrificing money, or waiting for the next model update.

Ultimately, Audi gained insights into driver preferences, enabling them to distinguish between what was considered as must-haves from the nice-to-haves. From the data they collected from participants, they were able to group results based on model preferences, demographics and other consumer traits.

What was interesting and worth noting was that customers were intrinsically motivated. They had their own interest in participating. It was enjoyable, and they felt they had real input; a channel right to a designer’s ear. The only external motivation that was offered was the distribution of promotional hats.

Overall, clear, open co-creation processes like this offer insight for businesses to solve customer issues: just ask the customers themselves. 

Based on information from:
Bartl, M. 2009, Making-of Innovation, Michael.bartl.com, viewed 12 April 2014, < http://www.michaelbartl.com/article/audi>
Bartl, M. and Füller, J. 2007, ‘User design in practice – the Audi Virtual Lab’, Proceedings of the World Conference on Mass Customisation & Personalisation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, viewed 12 April 2014, <http://scg.mit.edu/images/MCPC_Conference_proceedings/site/papers/MCPC-115-2007.pdf>
‘Case Study: Audi Infotainment’ 2004, European Business Forum, vol. 19, Autumn, pp 56-7, view 14 April, <http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/224665462?accountid=14757>

Jason Della
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School


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