June 2013 American Way Magazine - page 82

BUCKLEUP
CarDesignDrivenby
2,500Post-itNotes
navigation instructions, finding radiostations,get-
ting traffic info and adjusting devices they had
plugged into the car.
“You’d see all the issues people had andwon-
der why theyweren’t getting intowrecks all the
time,” he says.
Growing up in Chester (down the road from
South Dakota’s famous Corn Palace), Cody says
he always knew hewould end up at GM design-
ing “the cool stuff” in cars: the electronics. He
showedaknackwithcomputersearlyon.Asakid,
hewould playwith his dad’s Compaq computer,
inevitablybreaking it andhaving to fix it. By fifth
grade, hewas the“computerguy.”Byhighschool,
hewas runningabusiness incomputer repairand
discoveringapassion for cars—GM cars.
“One of my earliest memories is plugging
into thebelt buckle, and it had aGM logoon it—
branded inmy brain,” he says, tapping his head.
His firstcarwasaGMPontiacSunfirecompact. Its
main attraction? Theword
Pontiac
lit up at night
on thedeck lidof the trunk.
At Northwestern University, Cody interned
forNorthropGrumman, but hehadaneyeonhis
real goal:GM.HebadgeredNorthwesternalumni
until he foundoneatGMwhogot him in thedoor.
First, heworkedonChevyCamaros,designing
the company’s first audio-infotainment-control
system usingBluetoothwireless technology and
USBconnectivity.After less thanayearon the job,
hewaspicked for theCUE team.
Inabasement at theTechnical Center, Cody’s
team set up shop, covering thewalls withwhite
butcherpaper.Using thecustomer interviews, the
team created a diagram highlighting every prob-
lem area they had seen on every control panel.
Each problem, in turn, was printed on a yellow
Post-itNoteand tacked to thewall—250 square
feet of problemson2,500yellow stickynotes.
The Cadillac engineers wouldwalk the walls
silently, scribbling solutionsonmore stickynotes.
By the time they finished, says Cody, they had
180design ideasandacrazyquilt of notes in four
colors. Then the funpart— thevisioning—began.
“We started to create a vision, designing the
perfectworld foraspecificperson inacar,”hesays.
This spring, design work by Cody’s team
started popping up in the 2014 Chevy Impalas,
Corvettes and Silverados. One of the break-
throughswas realizing that thenavigationsystems
of the futureneed tobemore adaptive (going si-
lentwhenyouaredrivingnearhome, for instance).
How soon will we see that? Cody’s not saying.
Rightnow, his team isworkingondesigns for the
2015, 2016 and 2017 cars— no doubt withmore
yellowPost-its.
IT’SANUNSEASONABLY
cold day at General
MotorsCo.’sTechnicalCenter insuburbanDetroit,
but Cody Hansen and I are cozy warm inside a
Cadillac SRX as he runs through the electronics
on the touch screen.
Interface with iPod? Check. Hands-free call-
ing? Gotta have it. Proximity sensing? Hmm, I
don’t have that. Haptic feedback?What’s that?
AGPS that knows to shut upwhen you and the
hubby are talking? That would be handy. AGPS
that knows I’m driving inmy neighborhood and
won’tannoymewithdirectionsuntil I need them?
Nice.AsCody flips through functionson theeight-
inchLCD screen, I realize I have car lust.
Cody’s a farm kid from South Dakotawho is
living his dreamworking for GM as an “interac-
tion designer” — an expert in human-machine
interface (HMI). At the ripe old age of 29, he has
twoU.S. patents tohis name and sixpending, in-
cludingseveral for that smarterGPSof the future.
His team designed the Cadillac’s CUE (Cadil-
lacUser Experience) infotainment system,which
operates more like an iPad than a traditional
dashboard. It comes to life as your hand nears it
(thanks toproximitysensing), thumps reassuringly
whenyoupressacommand(haptic feedback)and
remembersyour favorites (not just radio stations
but addresses, phone numbers and apps). You
canswipeandpinch just likean iPad too.Another
bonus: It recognizes your natural speakingvoice;
evenaValleyGirl accent or aTexas twang.
These systems are all the industry rage now,
but what makes Cody’s approach unique is how
theGM teamgot to thispoint.DesigningCUE took
four yearsof customer interviewsand research—
usingaprocesscalled “contextual inquiry”—and
a roomwith2,500Post-itNoteson thewall.
Starting in 2008, Cody’s team rode around
with 30 customers as they commuted, ran er-
rands,workedandplayed. (Literally.Theywenton
vacation tripswithsomepeople.)Webcamonhis
shirt, Cody recorded it all, noting the issues that
frustratedor annoyeddrivers.
Cody’s first ridewaswith aBostonmomwho
worked—well, really lived— inher car. His team
made amodel ofwhat shedid, stepby step: get-
ting in the car, dropping her purse in the back,
starting the car, entering destination info into
herGPS—evennotingwhen shemademistakes
enteringaddresses. Itwas aneye-opener.
“Wow, theyhad togo through thatmanysteps
just to put in an address?” Cody says. “That’s
crazy.”
Worse (but no surprise), driving seemed sec-
ondary toall theother thingspeopleweredoing in
their cars: talkingon cellphones, texting, getting
88
JUNE 01, 2013
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