The Ultimate Driving Experience

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of traveling to South Carolina to attend a driving course at the BMW performance driving school. My father had recently purchased an M Series car and attending the school with a guest was part of that package. I love driving, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to take some tricked-out BMWs onto the track. What I didn’t expect was a well crafted experience from start to finish. The weekend really summed up how powerful a great experience can be. Here are some of the highlights:

The experience actually started in a BMW showroom when my father went in to learn about the car in the first place. These cars are marketed to driving aficionados who are often interested in the mechanics of how they work. BMW has lead automobile innovation for a long time, and the M Series of cars is the product line that expresses this innovation most. For those interested in these cars there is extensive information about what makes them so remarkable online. What will probably be more engaging to the readers of this post, however, is how BMW uses Microsoft Surface screens in their showrooms:


BMW presents technical information alongside information about their driving schools where owners have the opportunity to get training by some very talented, and competitive, drivers. You can watch some of those videos here. Together these presentations are compelling, emotionally inspiring, and contagious enough to make most people want to put the pedal to the metal. But, if you’re not interested in the track, BMW has other experiences on tap. For example, you can pick the car up in Germany and take a road trip through Europe before heading home with the car.

One interesting note about the factory in Germany is that it was one of the first places to use audio tours, which later made their way into blockbuster museum exhibitions. It seems that they are very capable of bringing their design thinking outside of the cars themselves. Before leaving for South Carolina, BMW sent me a nice letter of introduction, an itinerary, and a list of what to bring. When we arrived in South Carolina they were waiting for us in BMW SUVs that took us to our hotel. They’d a BMW branded menu at the restaurant (ok that may have gone too far, but it was a tasty meal), shirts and hats were left in our rooms, and cars were provided if we wanted to catch a movie in the evening. When we got up the next morning there was a bus to take us over to the driving center (sadly, not a BMW bus), which was an impressive bit of architecture.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the curriculum of the driving school itself, but I will say that it was well run and a lot of fun. There was a good mix of play and instruction. I would, however, like to highlight what happened when I got home from the school. A couple weeks after the course. I received a DVD in the mail with footage of my training so they could review my performance, and continue to try and build on the skills that I was introduced to. What I find interesting about the videos is that they embed the speedometer an tachometer into the image along with a representation of where you are on the track. Here is a video clip of my 65 year old father winning a race on a short loop course in the rain (he beat me by three stinking tenths of a second).


While we were at the school I heard a story of how the BMW design approach had been a barrier to user experience at least once. Apparently, BMW’s M Series cars did not have cup holders for a long time because the designers did not believe it was safe, or appropriate, to drink beverages while driving. When they did initially install them, they were apparently of poor quality. Fortunately for my father, it seems they’ve rectified this issue.

Which brings me to the BMW iDrive, which a computer system used to control most secondary vehicle systems in many current BMW cars. iDrive’s user interface consists of a LCD panel mounted in the dashboard and a controller knob mounted on the center console. iDrive allows the driver and front-seat passenger to control such amenities as the climate (air conditioner and heater), the audio system (radio and CD player), the navigation system and communication system. This is another area where the user experience seems to break down a little bit. You can read some of the critical reviews here:

  1. JAMES G. COBB (May 12, 2002). “Menus Behaving Badly“. New York Times. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
  2. Jasper van Kuijk (December 24, 2007). “More iDrive Reviews; the Evolution of a Bad Idea“. the product usability weblog. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.

Based on my experience on the track I’d say that many of these issues are still present in iDrive. There is a fairly steep learning curve, and the system seems to contradict the safety concerns that made the BMW designers resist cup holders. In other words, it’s hard to use when driving, which could be dangerous. This begs a question about how siloed the design teams are at BMW, and makes me think there is probably an opportunity here for better management of user experience.

As your industry grows, and user experience teams become more embedded in product and service development practices, there will be a greater and greater need to focus on the managemnet side or our practice. Our conference MX: Managing Experience is all about this effort. If you’re having these kinds you issues please check the conference out.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.

Getting some quotes

Today I got in touch with a bunch of companies online that offer services to take visual design files and turn them into WordPress themes. Since I have my visual design complete, this is the next step. My blog is going to be really simple so almost everything can be cobbled together from existing themes, widgets, and open-source code. Once again, I’m reminded that just because this is over my head does not mean it’s rocket science. I also posted the project description on Craigslist and got some good leads as well. I’d prefer to work with a freelancer, so I think that’s the direction I’m going to go in. More soon!

Building my theme

Today I started working on the design of this so called blog. I spent most of the day looking at other blogs, seeing what works, what fails, what fits with what I’m trying to do, and looking for unique opportunities. And, I’m trying to keep in mind that it’s just a blog … and not to over think it. That said, I visited the blogs of some pretty fancy dancy “experience” designers today and I was pretty disapointed to find some pretty poor experiences out there. It seems these folks create great experiences for companies, but not for their own stuff. Who’da thunk it? Strange …. but I have to say, not too surprising. Human nature has something to do with this I think.

In any case, here the first sketch of my new site!

Early Theme Sketch

Early Theme Sketch

Okay, that’s it for now.


Putting Your Design Where Your Money Is: A Prototype Wallet

For the past several years, I’ve been walking around with a wallet that is actually the insert for a larger one. At first this was because wallets just seemed bigger than they should be, But over the years I realized that I’ve never found a wallet that really anticipates my behaviors well. For example, being able to reach into my pocket to get my driver’s license or cash without having to pull out the entire wallet. I’ve also never had a wallet in which I can hold business cards without mashing their edges. There are other issues, but those seem to rise to the top.

In true Adaptive Path fashion, I decided it was time to do some rapid prototyping. I started with paper prototypes which I unfolded and used to create a fabrication drawing. I then sent it off to a leather guy to make a better prototype. Regrettably, the fabricator did not fully understand the project, despite lots of notation on the fabrication spec, and I got back something that was worse than my paper version. The dimensions were off and it was made from thick leather that made the wallet too big and stiff. The lesson I took away from this is that you should always try and make the prototype yourself if possible because you understand your goals better than you can possibly explain in a spec. So, I decided that I’d look into making a prototype that was better than paper, but which didn’t require special tools. That’s when the duct tape came in. I’d seen duct tape wallets before so I decided to try making one myself.

I liked the basic design of the insert wallet I had, but it needed some adjustments. Below you can see images of my old wallet next to the prototype I created. I’ve only been using it for one day but I already know I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve turned up a couple issues that will impact my next prototype as well. Yay for prototypes! Let me know what you think!

Old Wallet Inside View – As you can see the cash is simply folded in the middle which allows you to peel off bills like a bill fold. I used to use a bobby pin to keep the cash in, but ultimately found that it was unnecessary. Also, I liked being able to take the cash out of my pocket without the wallet (this requires that you put the wallet in your pocket with the open end up).



Prototype Wallet Inside View – As you can see it’s very similar, though instead of using clear plastic that tears easily, I opted for triangular thumb pulls which make getting the cards out easier.



Old Wallet Inside View Without Cash – here’s what it looks like without cash in it (I hate it when that happens)



Prototype Wallet Inside View Without Cash – same.




Old Wallet Outside View – you can see here that the driver’s license is held on the outside, which I really liked. This way you can quickly reach into your pocket and pull out just the license.


Prototype Wallet Outside View – I kept the license on the outside, but added a pocket on the other side for business cards rather than keeping them on the inside like in the old wallet. This allowed me to create a flap of material over the entire business card that keeps the edges clean (note that the pocket in which the license sits leaves the edge of the license exposed). My next version will add a thin plastic card over the business cards to protect them even more.



Old Wallet Side View – The old one was pretty thin, which I really liked.



New Wallet Side View – the new one is slightly thinner because of the material used. Ultimately, I might have this fabricated from a thin, durable, and slightly stretchy cardura.




Here are some other interesting thin wallets:

Wallet Pens

Scenario Planning Meets Internal Marketing

Last week, I sat in on a talk by Andrew Blau about Global Business Network’s scenario planning practice when he came by Adaptive Path as part of our Brown Bag lunch presentation series. I was struck by how his work relates to internal marketing practices, and am writing to share some of those connections. I should also say that my background is in marketing, and this is the focus of my work. I’ve recently joined AP and look forward to bringing some marketing related posts to this blog.

First, a word about scenario planning and internal marketing for those who are not familiar with these terms. The former is sometimes also referred to as “scenario thinking” and is a strategic planning method used to make flexible long-term plans. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods used by military intelligence (I realize that may sound like an oxymoron).Internal marketing is an activity that is designed to align creative vision, purpose, processes, and culture in general. You can think of this as the Kool-Aid.

Andrew presented a scenario planning methodology that GBN uses to engage with organizations on a leadership level. The frame for this exercise was a ten year projection, which is far enough out as to limit the effectiveness of incremental visioning, but not so far out as to enter science fiction land. The process of building four divergent visions of the future helps the leadership get in touch with the culture within their organization, and understand how it will respond to different futures. It’s important to emphasize that the scenarios must be divergent from each other in order to address the broadest possible range of possibility. Andrew explained that each scenario becomes a caricature of sorts because it highlights predominant features within an organization that are teased out through specific scenarios.

This reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s mythological archetypes (The Hero with a Thousand Faces), because Campbell uses them to demonstrate that very similar features arise in creation myths across cultures. This approach was taken even earlier in Carl Jung’s use of archetypes as a psychological tool for individual analysis, and has also made it’s way into organizational psychology methods such as meta-analysis, which uses averages of individual assessments to represent larger groups. With this in mind, we touched on some common archetypes that arise within GBN’s scenario planning practice such as a disaster scenario, a utopian scenario, and a climate change scenario.

Internal marketing is relevant here because leadership teams must apply the knowledge that comes out of such exercises to their organizations in order to prepare for a myriad of possible futures. This practice recognizes that a culture of adaptation is key to success and must be fostered. I see internal marketing as an essential tool in cultivating adaptability because it distributes power throughout organizations while aligning resources with a larger cause. This leads to increased resiliency as well, not only because of its distributive nature but because it promotes multi-directional feedback from within an organization. At AP we embrace this approach by aligning our organizational purpose with employee behavior; this is represented through our conferences, Brown Bags, Open Design Sessions, management structure, and our commitment to the Designers’ Accord.