What the New IndyCar Aero Kits Can Teach Us About UX

This season Chevrolet and Honda the two main engine manufacturers for Indycar also brought out new Aerodynamics kits. The carbon fiber kits were carefully tuned to increase downforce and therefore the speed of the car. Largely this was successful however, an unforseen problem was fragility. In the first race of the season contact between cars left debris all over the race track. This led to more caution flags and slowed down the race. So in essence, a technological innovation that was designed to improve competitiveness and excitement in the racing series instead had a negative effect on the audience experience. Even worse, one spectator was injured by a piece of carbon fiber debris that broke off and flew over the safety fence. These IndyCar Aero Kit developments give us a glimpse of how to approach our own UX successes and failures. Here are 3 potential solutions:

1. Remain honest and flexible with regards to future developments

Given the highly competitive field of IndyCar racing, it seems unlikely that any team will completely end their Aero Kit research and development. That makes sense, because businesses will often build flexible plans that range from worst-case to best-case scenarios. UX is rarely perfected the first time around. Future development should take these failures and work them into improving the Aero Kits. The amount of money that was spent on R&D on the Aero Kits, without a reasonable expectation that they would fail on the race track, is indicative of an inflexible, narrow strategy.   Gartner recommends that businesses: “Communicate more, not less – It may be difficult to communicate with customers that are angry or distrustful, but a lack of communication will breed more distrust and dissatisfaction.

2. Reduce the gap between design and practical tests

One way to improve in the future development is by unifying design with practical tests. For businesses, this means encouraging more communication between designers and developers, working in tighter groups, and having a mutually influenced unified mindset. For IndyCar teams, this lesson can be taken in a slightly different way. Wind tunnel or single car test drive results cannot be taken for granted. These tests are similar to in-house quality assurance tests. They do not fully cover the breadth of what happens on the field. In particular, more collision tests from a wide variety of angles, speeds and contact points need to be made to accurately reflect actual racing conditions.

3. Re-evaluate whose end experience is the priority

 Gartner Analysts give us a great jumping off point: “Start with the baseline perspective that everyone wants delighted users. The question is what the best approach is.” The two end experiences to consider are the audience’s, and the race team. Ideally, these two should not be at odds with each other; faster cars should make the audience experience more exciting. One thing to consider though is the user experience from the drivers’ perspective. They had conditions where handling was less responsive when there was slight damage on their Aero Kit, or their helmet and windshield was pelted by chunks of debris. Vehicle performance is too heavily prioritized at the expense of the drivers and audience. In a business sense, this is a simple case of losing sight of your end users. The audience needs to become the focus of racing innovation again. If that happens, all other factors will fall back in line, including car performance, driver safety for, and safety for the audience itself. While it is still too early to tell if the new IndyCar Aero Kits are a bust, many people will not argue with the fact that they are insufficient in its current form. They add a layer of unpredictability and danger for the drivers, and create a less exciting environment for the audience.  
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com