Mercedes-BenzAutonomous S-Class Concept

The fully self-driving car redefines what it means to be a driver. When addressing what the near future could look like in an autonomous vehicle, I wanted to design an experience centered around making driving a refreshing and/or productive experience.

This six-week project involved identifying a problem space, conducting user research, constructing personas based on that research, storyboarding a user flow, developing a UX vision, and executing upon that vision throughout a process of low, medium, and high fidelity wireframes informed by user testing.

Completion Date
December 2014


The Mercedes-Benz S-Class was selected as the base for the project because it is the car which others are judged by; it is the benchmark of quality. Historically, the S-Class brings industry-first innovations into the automotive industry, such as the airbag, ABS brakes, and crumple zones.

With all of this high technology in comfort, luxury, and safety already in the existing vehicle, the realistic possibilities in a near future self-driving car are heightened as well, like the fully immersive virtual reality mode in my concept.

Questions asked to current 2014+ model year S-Class owners

Everything started with interviewing owners specifically of the W222. With such a narrow user group, finding people to interview was challenging. I curated a list of seven questions, and posted them to various owner clubs and forums online. Additionally, I viewed the online profiles of the respondents, which helped when identifying user personas.

The biggest insight received from research was the large amount of free time I could add onto the lives of S-Class drivers. Two months after my project was finished, it was exciting to see my research corroborated by Mercedes-Benz’s F 015 research car.Two months after my project was finished, it was exciting to see my research corroborated by Mercedes-Benz’s F 015 research car. I was also able to learn about the functionality and features used most in the current COMAND interface, features some drivers felt were missing, and what they felt was less successful about the interface.

One of the most important design decisions informed by my research was the inclusion of the semi-autonomous driving mode in the current-day S-Class, as people still want the ability to be entirely in control when they so choose. This was informed by the displeasure I witnessed when proposing the vehicle being 100% autonomous all of the time. Therefore, I have left the current-day COMAND system alone when being used in manual driving mode, in addition to the fact that the car still may experience situations that require driver intervention - something that is addressed in my high fidelity wireframes. Redesigning the non-autonomous interface, in addition to the autonomous, was out of scope for this six week project.

Archetype personas derived from interview respondents

As Dr. Zetsche unveiled the F 015, he defined luxury of the 21st century as private space and personal time. Two months earlier, the same thoughts informed the entire design of my concept.While my sample group had a wide range of professions, there were several clearly repeating patterns. Chiefly, S-Class drivers tend to be very busy individuals who value their time greatly, and about 75% of my respondents commuted nearly double the average national commute time of 25.4 minutes.

As Dr. Dieter Zetsche unveiled the F 015 research car at CES 2015, he defined the single most important luxury good of the 21st century as private space and personal time. Two months earlier, after defining my personas, the same thoughts informed the entire design of my concept.

My personas focus on two individuals leading very different lifestyles. However, at a high level their needs are quite similar, as was the case with actual drivers in my research.

User Journey & UX Vision defined by my research and personas

Defining the user journey, the context of the experience, was fairly straightforward given the linear nature of a vehicle going only from point A to B most of the time.

Much like the actual S-Class, my user experience vision is to remove stress from driving; to make it an enjoyable experience. Where it deviates, unless the user has a personal driver, is in the area of productivity. I was able to begin ideating on how the driver journey could be different if the car were entirely self-driving.With the research, user journey, and UX vision established, I was able to begin ideating on how the experience would and could be different, in accordance with my user experience vision, if the car were entirely self-driving.

Original ideation for project scope

Imagine getting hot stone massage on the beaches of Maui rather than gridlock during a large, cold storm. The speakers fill the cabin with calming sounds, climate control and fragrance infusion making the cabin warm with a hint of relaxing lavender.Ideation started with itemizing every standout feature and option in the current car; everything from a fridge, cabin fragrance infusion, and heated wiper fluid. I counted 24 safety features, 25 luxury, and 8 performance. I'm sure that I overlooked even more.

With the car being able to transform between autonomous and non-autonomous driving modes, addressing the position and form factors of the displays in the car was my first order of business.

The current S-Class has two 8:3 12.3 inch displays. My self-driving concept doubles the height of these screens when the car is in autonomous driving mode, and makes the displays support capacitive multitouch. (This makes the displays 4:3 and 15.6 inch each) As demonstrated in the project video, this transition between the form factors is achieved through the bottom half of the display being hidden away in the dash when in manual driving mode. This means there is no perceivable difference between the current car and my concept version when in manual driving mode.

With displays much larger than the typical laptop, the possibilities of what to use this screen real-estate for are quite large. However, the experience goes much further than the displays, utilizing all of the luxury and safety features of the vehicle, and then some.

For instance, when selecting a route, the vehicle asks the driver how they would like to feel. The driver is presented with two mood-agnostic states; alert and relaxed. For example, alert will make the windows transparent, letting in more light. It actives the active workout massage function in the seat, moves the chair more upright, The mission is to provide the best in productivity and relaxation. infuses a stimulating orange or peppermint scent into the cabin, makes the interior mood lighting a more intense color, and plays more upbeat music from the driver's library.

Additionally, the driver can adorn a virtual reality headset, like the Oculus Rift, for a fully immersive virtual trip experience engaging four out of the five senses. Imagine getting a hot stone massage on the beaches of Maui instead of being stuck in traffic during a large, cold storm. The speakers fill the cabin of the car with calming sounds of the ocean, while the climate control and fragrance infusion makes the cabin warm and have a hint of relaxing lavender. Or hang glide over farmland smelling the fruits as you fly over with the AC at max fan speed to simulate wind and cooler air, akin to the Disney experience in their California Adventure park.

Augmented reality projected over the windshield, in combination with gestural control, allows for POIs to be highlighted and selected with a poke towards the object to be shown on the main display. When in your home town it can show events happening, newly opened places, and your favorite bookmarked locations. If you are somewhere new, it can act as your personal tour guide, highlighting local favorites and landmarks.

The mission is to provide the driver with the very best in productivity and relaxation.

Determining the information architecture

The left screen serves the paramount functionality of controlling where the car is going, but also serves as the hub for the productivity applications, like the driver's favorite suite of iWork, Mircosoft Office, or Google Drive, and simply accessing the internet. Your television at home is streamed wirelessly over a device equivalent to Slingbox to your car.Media playback controls and the telephone are also controlled on this display. Multitasking is possible with an arrangeable grid system encompassing the center of the display.

The right display is divided up into two sections, the top containing toggleable views of traffic, weather, 3D maps, calendar, and your television at home (streamed wirelessly over a device equivalent to Slingbox). The bottom half of the display shows an interactive 3D model of the vehicle, which shows hot spots to change the various settings of the vehicle's interior and exterior. Lastly, the bottom half also contains the climate controls. It is important to note the climate control status bar is just about the physical vents in the car.

Determining the visual layout of the interfaces

Initially, I had the right screen's buttons on the right side of the display, however after going to use the current S-Class I quickly realized that this would create reachability issues.

Button placement is entirely based around ease of reach from my experience in the W222. Since my arms do not go all the way straight, my assumption is that if I can reach it, anyone can.

The car's current rotary wheel, already a directional pad in the existing S-Class, allows for optional control of movement in the VR experience.

User testing & medium fidelity wireframes

The biggest change to the interface from user testing, besides iconography, was the addition of a bar at the top of the display dedicated to the ETA, current destination, and total time remaining in the trip.

The use of the rotary wheel in the virtual reality for menus was also changed drastically. The changes allowed the VR interfaces to have a very easy learning curve, generally test participants were able to grasp it within 10-15 seconds.

The interface testing was conducted by making an interactive Keynote presentation, and giving the participant a scenario or task to fulfill.

High Fidelity comps

I tried to create visual continuity between the overall aesthetic of the autonomous interface with the already established "manual driving" interface, most notably with the white lines dividing the information into its respective areas.

In terms of motion, the interface lines slide in an out to call attention to the active window, as demonstrated in the project video.

As the six week project wrapped up, I was pleased with what I was able to create, but a considerable amount of time would be needed for a fully resolved solution. The scope of what I chose to work on with such a large time constraint was ambitious, and I hope to have the opportunity to more rigorously question the self-driving car in the near future.