Trucks of Tomorrow: Lessons Learnt

I spent the last few days reflecting on the "Truck of Tomorrow" project that we did in collaboration with Scania and the Interactive Institute Piteå. The goal of our first large project was to design an interface for professional users – in this case truck drivers – in highly automated trucks in 2030. This was also the first collaborative project in which I got to work with fellow classmates Emily, Migle and Kalliroi. We got to learn about a profession we had literally no clue about. 

One of many brainstorming sessions during our ideation phase. Here we would allot ourselves 5 minutes to come up with as many ideas as we could and then hand over the sheets to the next team member, who would then build on those ideas.

One of many brainstorming sessions during our ideation phase. Here we would allot ourselves 5 minutes to come up with as many ideas as we could and then hand over the sheets to the next team member, who would then build on those ideas.

 We also spent time delving into the difficulties and paradoxes of automation and came up with different ways on how platooning – better known as automated truck convoys – could become a reality in the near future. One of the main challenges was how to combine both the truckers' needs and values of 2013 with the future scenarios of 2030. We were trying to come up with a highly usable design concept and simultaneously faced the issue of grounding the scenarios in reality. 

Given these challenges we wanted to humanize the automation technology within the truck, making it a trustworthy companion on the truck operators journey. We also wanted to give technology a clear point of reference within the truck and finally aimed to make sure truck drivers remain aware of the automation's actions and decisions at all time. With this in mind we propose a novel truck interface – the heart of automation. Unfortunately, as of now I cannot tell you more about what we have come up with. Representatives at Scania are currently looking into the potential of patenting some of the designs that our class has come up with during this project. Instead I shall reflect on the lessons that I have learnt during the last six weeks. 

The very friendly truck driver that patiently answered all of our questions (picture intentionally blurred). 

The very friendly truck driver that patiently answered all of our questions (picture intentionally blurred). 

The stand out highlight of the past six weeks was the chance to follow, observe and interview a truck driver for a whole day. I have previously written about this experience in more detail. It was amazing how much I learnt about something that I had absolutely no idea about. But just as much as it was fun, it also was incredibly exhausting. Even though we had practised being aware of the phrasing of questions and I knew that I ought to try and stay a step ahead in the conversation.

Another novelty was to collaborate with three other designers on the same project. I felt fairly comfortable with teamwork having been part of various teams for most of my career. And yet this time it felt different. The benefits of collaborating with others in projects are obvious. Getting feedback from each other throughout the project rather at the end kept us from straying onto unhelpful paths. There were also plenty of situations in which suggestions from other team members allowed me to see things from a different angle. And yet not everything was perfect. 

A photograph of the Scania truck of today, that I was able to sit in during our user research.

A photograph of the Scania truck of today, that I was able to sit in during our user research.

In the first few weeks we ended up doing absolutely every activity as a collective. I found myself having to justify ideas before having ample time to formulate them in my head. It felt that we got ourselves into a situation of talking too much – about problems, about solutions and about team work itself. The spirit to do, to try and to test got lost along the way. This was a major learning point for me: to find a better balance between discussion and exploration to allow for ample time for reflection.

When looking back at this project as a whole and the result that we have come up with I can't help but to have mixed feelings. On one hand I feel very privileged to have worked with Migle, Kalliroi and Emily and really liked positive energy we shared. Their motivation for the project and their willingness to go beyond what was asked of us was inspiring. I am also very happy about how we were able to tackle the very open-ended brief. We'd go broad and narrow in our ideas, incrementally focusing on interesting areas and then explored that area in greater detail. Both this and the professional attitude of all team members to compromise on their own ideas for the greater purpose of the project allowed us to end up with a single concept. And given the complexity of the domain we explored I find this achievement all the more impressive.

Presenting our concept during to representatives from Scania, tutors from the Interactive Institute and professors at UID.

Presenting our concept during to representatives from Scania, tutors from the Interactive Institute and professors at UID.

On the other hand I am also not entirely satisfied with the result. The work I tend to be most happy with is usually the work I feel most proud of. In some way I feel like this project fell just short of being great. It feels like something is missing. Although controversial, maybe we agreed on one too many compromises or maybe it's hard to expect more within the six weeks we were given. But I can't help feeling that the research phase was rushed and that some ideas still feel slightly underdeveloped. Additionally, I struggle to find justifications for all of our design decisions which kind of bugs me a little. And then there were times were we might have focused on things that weren't truly essential to the core of our concept. Maybe we lacked a clearly communicated vision early in our project for it to feel truly polished. For our next projects I'll definitely try to reserve more time for reflection and start dividing tasks a little earlier than in the last week.

Our team for this project consisted of Migle, Emily, Kalliroi and myself (from the left).

Our team for this project consisted of Migle, Emily, Kalliroi and myself (from the left).

In summary, there is a lot to be liked about the past few weeks. I feel like I've learnt a lot about truckers and their trucks. And even more importantly, by working with a tight-knit team of really talented young designers I learned a lot from them and about myself. It's surely not for a lack of effort that I am not entirely over the moon regarding our result and I'll definitely aim for more refinement in coming projects. But overall – as a whole – this experience definitely pushed me to be a better designer.