By: Ryan Powell, Head of UX Research & Design
We’ve had members of the public riding in our fully self-driving vehicles for over two years, first as part of our early rider program and more recently through our Waymo One commercial ride-hailing service. Now, we have over a thousand riders in Waymo One, some who have been with us since the very beginning and some who just took their first trip this week.
Whether they’re experiencing our self-driving service for the first time or the hundredth, every rider needs to trust our technology and feel comfortable and confident every step of their journey. Establishing this trust is a responsibility we take seriously; it’s baked into our design process from start to finish and influences every decision our team makes.
Throughout the rider experience, from hailing a car in our app to exiting the vehicle at their destination, we work to build trust in several ways, all guided by three main design principles: transparency, freedom, and consistency.
We want our riders to know exactly what to expect when they enter one of our vehicles and to feel informed along the way. To do this, we’re communicative across a number of different touchpoints, both visually and audibly, without flooding them with too much information.
Say the car stopped for a bit longer than usual. The first place a rider will look is our in-car passenger screens. There, they can see a simplified view of the activity our sensors are picking up, which we show at all times, coupled with a status layer that can display a specific message based on the situation. So in this example, riders would see “yielding to pedestrians,” which explicitly tells you what the car is doing and why it’s stopped. On this screen, you’re able to identify where the pedestrians are in the scene, giving you a picture of what the car is sensing and how it’s reacting.
Other times, we know our riders might not be looking up — perhaps they’re texting or resting their eyes — so we actively try to get their attention, like when we’re almost at the destination. In these cases, we use auditory feedback to ensure our riders receive relevant information to prepare them for the next step in their journey.
Engaging the sense of sound frees our riders from staying glued to the app or screen, giving them more time to sit back and relax. This leads us to our next pillar of trust: freedom.
When people ride with Waymo, we hope to evoke a feeling of freedom — freedom from the stress of driving; freedom from worrying about their safety on the road; freedom to get where they want to go. This freedom comes with new found time and choices for how to use it. Whether you want to catch up on emails or jam out to some of your favorite tunes using our music integration, we encourage riders to make this space their own, which we respect by only requesting their attention when absolutely necessary.
Finally, we build trust with our riders through consistency. Our passengers interact with Waymo across many different points throughout their journey, from our app to our in-car passenger screens, or even during a conversation with one of our rider support agents. We think of design as a system and strive to create a cohesive, connected experience throughout where riders can transition seamlessly from one interface to the other.
We also deliver consistency from ride to ride. Our riders like knowing that every time they step into a Waymo vehicle, they’re getting the same experienced driver, and from a design perspective, they’re also viewing the same type of information on our screens, being greeted by familiar sounds, and have the same choices for how to control and customize their ride.
Establishing trust with our riders will always be at the core of our design work, both today and in the future. But as our self-driving service matures, so will our guiding principles. We’re already evolving our understanding of riders’ needs in fully self-driving vehicles, and we’re constantly translating these insights into features we can incorporate into our service . There’s still a lot we don’t know that we’ll have to learn along the way and adapt to. As designers, this is what excites us most.
If you’re interested in learning more about our user experience research and design work at Waymo, check out the talk Ryan gave at SXSW 2019.