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Research, strategy and design for product and launch.
The ThunderTruck is Australia's answer to the Tesla Cybertruck. We were brought onto this project to lead user experience and aid in branding and creative direction for both the design of the vehicle and the upcoming launch. We were initially approached to help with visualisation and branding of the vehicle, which then expanded into a much larger role.
We were approached by an Australian automotive design startup, originally to help with 3D modelling and visualisation. We began our role with a Zoom call to clarify the brief, and here we discovered that, although the vehicle was close to finished, design best practice had not been followed and there wasn't a consensus on goal or strategy. Being weathered automotive designers and engineers, the focus was immediately on the product that they aspired to create and thus the product was largely final and open to very little change. Although at this point, the only thing that we could affect was the presentation of the vehicle, branding and positioning, we set out to redirect the project to find and fulfil its users needs and to develop a successful business model and strategy.
What we discovered
Research - none
Target audience - unsure
How to monetise - unsure
Project management - none
Branding - none
Comms channels - Zoom, Phone and Facebook Messenger
Product - Mostly finalised
Studio Engineer - 1
Engineering Research - 1
Designers - 6
Modellers - 9
Visualisation - 3
*original iteration of the design when we came onto the project
The Thundertruck is an AWD electric vehicle, with innovative technology and practical features. A four wheel motor drive, with a range extender that turns the vehicle into a six wheel drive. The extension doubles as a Segway for extra off road activities. It features a pull out kitchen and storage in the side with a storage capacity of 2.8 metres cubed. This vehicle was designed to handle the Australian off-road environment.
Our first questions when we were brought onto the project was 'Who are you designing this for?' and 'What problem are you trying to solve?'. The team had so far designed a solution without a clearly defined problem. Although the mission was clear, to create an Australian off-road electric vehicle, no user, competitor or market research had been conducted and no primary persona had been developed. The branding and business strategy thus far had also been largely ignored. The team was a group of extremely accomplished professionals in their fields, however had relied on their combined content area expertise and had so far been designing by committee. The product was a patchwork of bucket list ideas, trending technologies, conflicting values and an unclear message.
As the vehicle design had mostly been completed without considering the user, we tasked ourselves with reverse engineering an appropriate problem and positioning the remaining content and product development as best as we could.
Automotive design is a top-down structure that works with a lead designer who's job is to make all creative decisions.
We discovered very quickly that the automotive industry is not set up to function as a startup culture. Considerations of market positioning, need, lean iterations, testing, clear problem statements, personas etc don’t generally exist at the design level and are therefore not considered. These areas are defined long before the design phase and are the dictated starting point.
The idea of the Thundertruck was set up as a hobby project between a group of talented automotive industry veterans with decades in the industry, but soon became a serious undertaking. This created a tension between the hobbyists who wanted to work on a fun fantasy vehicle and the pragmatists who wanted to represent a savvy organisation.
The tension was around whether this was a concept vehicle or a production vehicle, and what was most valuable for the organisation to communicate. Since this project was conducted with sweat equity and no clear roles or hierarchy, any input that diverged from what was fun had to be justified and sold to the group.
Since the operation began as a hobby project before changing direction, another challenge that was being faced was an extremely tight deadline. The team were planning on sticking to the unmodified deadline of August 2020 for launch. This gave us less than 4 months to get this project business-ready and ensure that the vehicle is market-ready.
As a team, our roles were quite broad:
Strategic and Creative direction
Andrew - Strategy & Business Development, Visualisation, Creative Direction
Buzzby - UX/UI, Research & Strategy, Project Management
The first thing that we did was to set up a single avenue of communication for the team on Slack. We also implemented daily Slack stand-ups to not only keep the team accountable to each other, but to ensure that everyone was on the same page. The team already had weekly internal meetings on Zoom, however we also created a professional background to be used for any external meetings.
The team had thus far worked in such a way that each specialist would assign themselves their own jobs and were only answerable to themselves. This left jobs being missed or left incomplete as people dropped in and out of meetings. In order to combat this and attain some order we obtained a personnel list and turned this into an organisation chart. This allowed for accountability and ensure the right work was getting done.
We also organised the setup of professional email addresses for any external communication.
The next thing that we discovered was that there was a launch date set, however there was no timelines to ensure that work would be completed and ready to launch by that date. We put together a Gantt Chart, including all steps and dependencies involved in executing the launch of a car. We discovered that we needed to push back the original date by months.
In order to hit that date, we would need to conduct weekly sprints with regular reviews.
Once we had established an organisation chart, we had regular meetings with the director, general manager and head of design to understand the trajectory of the project and establish goals and expectations. It emerged that there was uncertainty around goals and expectations so we set them a task of devising their vision, mission and story.
We took this, and what had learnt from our stakeholder workshops and devised a value proposition and business model canvas.
Market and Competitor Research
Our first task after setting the plan and timeline into motion was to understand the world of the automotive industry. We dived into deep research on the market for both internal combustion engine vehicles and electric vehicle startups. From here we were able to create a competitor analysis to find our product's point of difference. We spreadsheet and charted all similar AWD electric vehicles/trucks onto a competitor matrix. Based on the design of the vehicle, we decided that the axis would be practicality vs technology. It was very clear to us that most other electric vehicles occupied the matrices surrounding low tech, which left the Thundertruck with a possible gap in the market. It could fit into a category all on its own, being both high tech and practical.
We leveraged the connections that our team had from working in the industry, and arranged a series of long form interviews conducted over Zoom. We used our secondary research to form an hour long interview with employees from several USA and China based electric vehicle startups: Faraday Future, Lucid, GAC, Tesla and Changan. These interviews ranged from very insightful into the industry and products to not very helpful at all depending on the level of secrecy and security required by each company. We also conducted an hour long interview with Australian 4WD influencer, Shawn Whale.
The aim of these interviews was to gather user behaviours, needs and pain points.
Based on our interviews and secondary research, we set to work devising personas. We began by researching who Tesla are targeting for the Cybertruck and who Rezvani are targeting for their Tank. These are two of the closest vehicles to the design of the Thundertruck. Interestingly, in a different tactic to the designers of the Thundertruck, the Cybertruck was born from an Elon Musk tweet asking his followers what they would want in a pickup truck. This was a vehicle rooted in user experience so it would be a great case study to follow when designing the Thundertruck.
When we devised our personas, we ended up with two secondary personas; the City Slicker 'Off-Road Warrior' and the Luxury Driver.
The City Slicker 'Off-Road Warrior'
Male in his forties or fifties.
In full-time work with a higher than average income.
Aggressive, uses force to get things done.
Buy to reflect a self-image associated with the outback.
Want to appear ‘rugged’, ‘muscular’, ‘bold’, ‘tough’, ‘powerful’ and ‘supremely capable’.
The Luxury Driver
Female, 40yrs old.
Will buy what's popular without too much research.
Prefers wine to beer or spirits.
Would buy favourite brand, regardless of price.
'I was born to shop'.
To be seen in the newest, most popular release.
Unlikely to leave paved roads.
Need for personal safety.
The ability to take the family away on camping trips.
Enjoys tough physical activities.
Wary of technology, admits to being 'a bit of a technophobe'.
Feels insecure on the road.
Portrays herself to have an endless supply of money.
Wants only the best for her vehicles.
A fear of trying any thing new.
Being too different.
Now that we had discovered where we sit in the market, our point of difference and who our users are, it was time to get on top the branding. This required a number of tasks to be happening simultaneously. We worked on logo ideation, colour palette for design and branding, user interface for the interior, the visualisation look and feel and the colour and materials for the vehicle hadn't been done yet so we used the services of an experienced CMF technician for this.
Colour and Materials
With the help of the CMF technician, mood boards were created and it was decided that the theme for the colour and materials of the vehicle would be themed 'Quantum'
Rejected theme boards below:
Now that the colour and materials theme for the vehicle was decided on, we were able to begin ideating branding, logos and UI for the interior.
The branding was both based on natural weather phenomenons and also geared towards the 'high tech/real world' user.
Branding Theme Board
The user interface on the interior of the car and the associated app is using the style of neumorphism. This gives the look of something physical, tangible on a digital product. It lends itself to the personality of the vehicle itself, being both high-tech and stylish and simultaneously physical.
User Interface Theme Board
The logo underwent multiple rounds of ideation before the winner was decided on. This final design was based on the symbol for a cell battery.