The interior design of the new B-Class: Space at its most stunning
Jul 29, 2011
Vehicle interiors in terms of perceptual psychology: “Cars stimulate the brain’s reward centre”
  • Assessing interiors in terms of dichotomies
  • Well-balanced mixture of old and new
  • Individual evaluation and multi-sensual impression
“Progressive/conservative”, “high-quality/low-quality” and “luxurious/utilitarian” – drivers use these three dimensions to assess the interior of a vehicle. This is the result of a study conducted by Daimler AG’s Customer Research Centers (CRC). First, participants in the study were asked to categorize two objects (images or parts of a vehicle's interior) as similar or different. The next step involved finding out the exact nature of said similarity. Individual definitions and perspectives were drawn up as a result.
“People perceive the world in terms of dichotomies”, explains Dr Götz Renner, Head of the CRC. “We chose the ‘repertory grid’ method in order to determine what criteria are relevant to vehicle interiors.” The advantage of this interviewing technique, which was originally devised by the American psychologist George A. Kelly in the 1950s for the purposes of research into personality, is that the interviewee can freely associate, and there are no predetermined criteria that he/she must apply as is the case with a traditional survey. “The interviews threw up around 100 attributes, but the main dimensions proved to be ‘progressive/conservative’, ‘high-quality/low-quality’ and ‘luxurious/utilitarian’” according to Renner.
These three dimensions form a multi-dimensional perceptual space within which drivers locate vehicle interiors. According to the CRC’s results, the ideal vehicle interior has a high-quality overall concept and a perfect mix of a range of qualities. A good balance between the familiar and the new and progressive is important. “Too much of the familiar comes across as dull and old-fashioned; too much of the new means there are no ties to the familiar and the learned” is how Dr. Renner describes the psychological processes involved in perception.
And there’s more. The ideal is not the same for everybody. Instead, everyone perceives and evaluates an object differently. This is related to people’s individual requirements and experiences. The trick is to do justice to as many different ideals as possible. In cases where they cannot be reconciled, for example preferences with regard to materials or colours, personalisation is key. With the new B-Class, for example, Mercedes-Benz makes personalisation easy using three interior packages, as well as providing a broad range of different materials for trim elements including real wood.
But the eye alone does not decide: the multisensory impression including haptic (touch) and olfactory (smell) experiences in addition to the optical leaves a particularly strong impression on the brain. The experts at the CRC have been able to demonstrate these activation patterns in a fundamental study conducted in collaboration with the University of Ulm. This involved measuring the brain patterns of test subjects using magnetic resonance imaging while they looked at different images. The scanner showed the level of activity in the various regions of the brain. “Cars stimulate the brain's reward centre just as strongly as chocolate or sex”, summarises Dr. Renner.
In addition to emotional enthusiasm, rational factors also influence how satisfied customers are with a vehicle’s interior. The researchers at the CRC use the Kano model (developed in the 1970s by the Japanese customer satisfaction researcher Prof. Noriaki Kano) to determine vehicle-specific basic and excitement attributes. The basic attributes include ergonomics, safety and practicality. “These attributes are assumed by the customer”, stresses Dr. Renner. “If they are lacking or requirements are not sufficiently met, the customer is highly dissatisfied.” The excitement attributes are different. They promote satisfaction, surprise the customer and are heavily emotionally loaded. “The potential for excitement can be in the design, technological innovations or neat individual solutions”
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