How UX plays a role in the automotive industry
Justin Busch·Nov 10, 2020

How UX plays a role in the automotive industry

Justin Busch
Sr. UX Researcher
Nov 10, 2020 · 5 min read
How UX Plays A Role In The Automotive Industry | TomTom Newsroom

Building navigation systems starts with conceptualizing, planning and designing. As the automotive industry evolves and becomes increasingly digitalized, so does UX. But why is UX so important?

User experience (UX) research helps us recognize the goals and needs of our users and find commonalities across our target audience.

By utilizing various research methods, we ensure that our insight into user behavior translates back into our products. And as the automotive industry and location technology evolve, UX needs to adapt accordingly.

UX in navigation systems: From cars to mobile phones

Once a technology that was only integrated using GPS in vehicles, navigation systems now play a much bigger role in our lives. In-vehicle infotainment (IVI) has become vital to many people’s journeys and every feature, whether it’s maps, media or connectivity, and requires a design that meets drivers’ needs.

What’s more, with navigation applications now only a couple of taps away thanks to smartphones and increasing digitalization integrated into cars, experts must also constantly update and maintain them for safety and to make sure everyone gets the freshest information possible. This has become even more important with the advent of autonomous cars. To move automation forward, we need to ensure that the design allows for maximum safety and comfort. Here’s how UX research makes that happen.

The Building Blocks of UX Research

There are three main stages to conducting UX research and designing in the automotive industry:

1. Pre-design: The first stage where we connect with our users by getting their perspective and understanding their needs.

2. During-design: We use actionable insights from our users and requirements to guide design, development and testing.

3. Post-design: We validate the quality of the end-to-end user experience and drive optimization.


In the pre-design stage, we first need to explore opportunities, understand our market, and identify current and future trends. This part of the process includes exploratory and generative research, where we implement three main research methods:

  • Contextual inquiry: This involves gathering insight into our users’ behavior by directly observing them as they go about their daily routines. Based on their behavior, we can determine what parts of their experience can be improved and validate our assumptions about certain driving behaviors.

  • User interviews: By interviewing our users directly, they can share their preferences, needs and their reasoning for them, and how these contribute to the navigation space.

  • Surveys: a useful tool for us to examine our users’ behavior based on a large amount of data.


In the during-design stage, we need to make sure that our products and features are validated. By frequently putting a design in front of users, we can improve products by seeing how users interact with them. Implementing usability testing and evaluation of our own designs are key in informing us how to deliver the maximum results and how to make the best of a collaboration with our original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.

Here are a few things that we need to consider when it comes to integration features within the car:

  • Which features of navigation systems would be best for the users?

  • What is something that the users don’t need?

  • How does a feature impact the interface, both outside and inside the car?

Discovering how users interact with traffic information

Getting insight into how users access and use traffic information, when they do so and how they like this information to be visualized is key to making roads safer and less congested. By taking our users’ experiences and comparing them with the TomTom Navigation App, we can find ways to make navigation even more convenient.

For example, our user research has shown that drivers like to be reassured of the traffic situation throughout their journey to make sure they’re still following the fastest and most efficient route. Drivers rely on their knowledge and experience heavily when it comes to assessing traffic. They also constantly compare the traffic they see outside the window with what’s displayed in their navigation system – which means that precision is highly vital for the driver’s trust.

Thanks to this research, we were able to improve the TomTom Navigation App to make sure that what drivers see on the screen more accurately reflects the reality on the road. We were also able to develop new features within the in-dash navigation system that keep drivers informed about the traffic, regardless of whether they’re following a route or not, as well as proactively suggesting faster routes in case of sudden changes in traffic.

Engaging with automakers to deliver the ultimate

Working with automakers is a vital part of creating cohesive experiences in the vehicle. Besides catering to the needs of the end users, we also need to keep automakers’ requirements in mind. For instance, data consumption in embedded navigation systems is something that automakers need to be particularly mindful of. By modifying our traffic visualization to minimize data consumption, our maps become even more efficient for automakers and convenient for our end-users.

As a location technology specialist, we also need to know what types of systems our automaker partners are working with, in depth. We achieve this through joint research programs and design workshops. By bringing together accurate vehicle data and our map data, we can make sure that our system operates in harmony with each automaker’s vehicles.

Making the roads safer using UX

UX research is a driving force behind TomTom Navigation. By designing with both automakers and end users in mind, we create – and constantly update – easy-to-use and accurate maps, navigation software and real-time traffic information, trusted by more than 1 billion people. UX research allows us to understand our users’ needs, desires, and behaviors and deliver cutting-edge solutions that make roads safer and less congested for everyone.

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