• automotive
  • autonomous driving

The dark side of self-driving cars…

…or: finding the right balance between positive automotive user experience and revenue. Autonomous driving also opens up new possibilities for the marketing world. We have to concentrate less on driving and can let ourselves be carried away by external stimuli. Public screens or in-car interfaces will be used for advertisements even more. But it is known that this can also negatively influence the experience users make with a product or service. In many cases, it is necessary to balance the negative impact on the UX with the additional revenue created by a measure.

Imagine you are sitting in a car. A nice, clean, new car. Electric and almost silent, it drives itself. You can lean back and relax. You don’t own the car. You do not have to worry about repairs or maintenance. Private car ownership is almost non-existent. Whenever you need a car, you just pick one that is parked by the side of the road. Any car. Almost all cars in the city are part of one big car-sharing network. Just walk up to one, unlock it with your smartphone, and get in. Speak your destination and the car brings you wherever you want to go, all by itself. Smooth. It communicates with other vehicles and traffic lights, no sudden breaking or accelerating.
Imagine this future with self-driving vehicles.

Unexpectedly, the car signals right, slows down and turns on the parking lot of the nearest McKing. It’s your usual lunch time and you’re slightly hungry, but you did not tell the car to go here. Strange. A quick check shows that all parameters of the car are normal and it does not require charging.
Suddenly, your music stops and a commercial comes on, telling you about the specials of the week at McKing™: “Tried the new BigSoy yet? Two for one at participating restaurants…”.

The car’s display shows three options:

What would you do?

a) The service provider of the car knows that you prefer McKing™ over KentuckyHut™ and that it’s lunchtime for you. Might as well try the new BigSoy.

b) Accept the delay as inevitable: Keep calm and listen to the rest of the commercial while the car waits in the parking lot, you will soon be on your way again.

c) You’re in a hurry. Cough up the 99 Cents to keep going now.

d) What the ****? Freak out! This is your time this car is stealing!! You expect to be taken directly to your destination!!!
(Of course, you could always buy the ‘ad-free’ package to your car-sharing subscription, just 14,99 € / month, to avoid this in the future)

Welcome to the future.

So far, experience has shown that every public screen will be used for advertising purposes sooner or later. Just think about the displays at airports, train stations or in busses. Why should the navigation system of your car be different? In combination with the fact that you are dependent on the car and basically locked in it while it takes you to your destination, some interesting possibilities come to mind:

  • Offer the scenic route as downloadable content: In holiday regions, the basic subscription just offers highways. Pay extra to have your car take that beautiful mountain route with stunning views.
  • People who navigated to [your destination] also went to […].
  • Pay for the fast lane! Even more fun if this is organized as an auction: The one who pays the most is fastest and gets the right of way. Pay more than him to overtake that sucker!
  • Have the car point out interesting sights (=stores) along the way. “This section of highway is sponsored by …”.
  • Are you sure you need all the windows? After all, there’s no need to look outside when the car steers itself and all this space could be used for other, interesting purposes (commercials!).

Some time later, you instruct the car to stop at a service station on the highway, because you have to use the bathroom. After giving the command, you get this message:
“This car cooperates with SqueakyClean™ rest-stops only. The indicated stop is not covered by your subscription. Please select:”

What do you choose?


While the examples above may seem somewhat exaggerated, we as user experience consultants are often stuck between advocating users’ needs and the marketing department. UX research sometimes is also about figuring out how far you can push your users: From many things it is known that they negatively influence the experience users make with a product or service – and still they exist for good reasons. In many cases it is necessary to balance the negative impact on the UX with the additional revenue created by a measure.

At uintent, we can not only help with creating great experiences for users but also measure this impact and tell you when to stop.


Felix Vollmuth

Experience creator & cooking enthusiast from uintent Hamburg
Felix has a bachelor in Library- & Information-Management and is working in UX since 2009. Over the years he conducted projects in various fields: apps, websites, automotive, healthcare, financial – his favorite is long-term qualitative research.

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