General Motors Teams up with Students to Design the Future of Car Travel

Feb 9, 2015 by



With all the technology, social media, and bespoke products available to them, the Millennial generation seems to have it made. These young adults have more choices than any previous generation. Representing nearly a third of the U.S. population, they’re also better educated, tech savvy, and more likely to seek out new experiences, especially travel.

A critical challenge companies face, however, is how to create and sustain a meaningful connection with today’s most sought-after demographic. How does a time-honored brand bridge the evolving tastes and preferences of this sophisticated audience?

This challenge was put before MFA students in the Integrated Design program at the College for Creative Studies (CCS). Sponsored by General Motors, the project teamed pairs of Interaction Design and Integrated Design majors to create an enhanced user experience around the concept of an existing brand—in this case, Chevrolet and its line of small cars: Spark, Sonic, and Cruze. According to Matt Fuligni, Design Manager of the User Experience Studio at G.M., the groups researched these models “to come up with cool, innovative ideas using interior ‘infotainment’ and technology to uncover things that we [G.M.] are not thinking about right now.”

Of the several innovative solutions to come out of the studio, Qian Yu and Effy Zheng’s MySpark Car Rental for Millennial Travelers stood out for its communicative potential. The premise is simple, yet it resonates with the way Millennials live. Yu and Zheng created a car-rental experience that not only eases the experience of travel, but also helps each traveler find new experiences tailored to his or her tastes. MySpark works as an integrated component within the car, tapping into features like GPS and drawing on social media resources like Yelp or Instagram. Get to a parking lot and find out it’s full? MySpark can suggest a new space nearby. Hungry for dessert at a hip coffee house? MySpark can scan reviews and make suggestions for that, too.

The Chevrolet project had three distinct phases. In the discovery phase, students conducted a complete analysis of features and functions that define the user experience of each car model. They assessed these against the perceptions, values, and needs of Millennials. In the ideation phase, the teams developed two to three different concepts, each backed up by business rationales and preliminary ideas for prototypes. Finally, teams chose and developed one idea, testing user experience prototypes that were articulated through wireframes, screen flows, and animations.

“We had a lot of ideas about how this system should work,” said Yu. “We made a lot of good designs, but in the end we tried to make it simple and make it work better.”

The MySpark system is one of four created in the G.M.-sponsored project and is the latest example of what happens when the carmaker and CCS tap into their long and productive relationship. Sponsored projects give CCS MFA students the opportunity to gain real-world design experience, under real-world conditions.

“Their evaluation was really thorough,” said Maria Luisa Rossi, MFA Chair of Integrated Design and one of the project’s instructors. “[G.M.] looked at every single idea from a different point of view. They thought about the quality of the idea, the quality of execution, the depth of ideation. They gave a lot of feedback to the students so they were really part of building this experience.”

Fuligni agreed that guidance from industry pros served two major purposes: to impose practical criteria on creative ideas to make them more production-ready, and to potentially identify talented designers who might one day find themselves working for the carmaker’s User Experience Studio.

The MFA students’ ability to synthesize research and come up with provocative ideas was impressive, Fuligni added. “We thought working with the master’s program would create a lot of insights and uncover a lot of things that we, at G.M., working on production programs, don’t really have the opportunity to do on a regular basis.

“Plus, we wanted to target future talent. It’s a growing, exciting field and a lot of people that work in that field have come into it from other disciplines. But at CCS, they’re taking classes and being trained in user interaction design and user experience.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.