Re-imagining the car buying experience at the dawn of COVID-19
Chat between customer and dealer


In light of COVID-19, many things have changed in our lives and our experiences. Brick and mortar and physical retail locations have had to reconsider their marketing strategies and their customer experience. One business that is quickly trying to adapt is the automotive industry. From a service design perspective, how might we consider a holistic solution for a car dealership?


This class started in May 2020. Our point of view was that consumers and dealerships need increased clarity, support and resources during COVID-19 because traditional auto shopping experiences are compromised.


Our solution played on the personal shopper experience. The car buying process is overwhelming and hard to approach for customers. By adding a personal shopping feature, dealership workers will be able to help guide customers from the very start of their car-buying journey.  

Watch the ad for NextDrive below.


Problem Statement

In light of COVID-19, how can we improve safety standards and make the car buying process more time efficient?

My Role

This was a group project done remotely as part of the user experience program at UCLA extension. Though my 4 teammates and I divided up the work fairly evenly, tasks for which I held sole responsibility are noted throughout the case study with an asterisk. In addition to designing and creating the final presentation video, I completed research (designed and administered our survey, completed observations at dealerships), facilitated a few workshops, and designed a physical and digital prototype.

Methods & Tools

Research: desk research, interviews, online surveys, online ethnography, in-person visits, competitive analysis
Ideation: How Might We, crazy 8s, solution sketching, idea portfolio (using Mural)
Prototype: service blueprint, scriptwriting, storyboards, cardboard modeling, video modeling (using Stop Motion Studio), Lego modeling, wireframing and voice prototyping (using Adobe XD)


May - August 2020


To start things off, we conducted several types of research to learn more about the problem space. 


Desk research

Conducted desk research and maintained a research log for future reference.


Online ethnography

Explored online chat agents and other online support available for customers.


In-depth interviews

Developed questions to conduct in-depth interviews with a dealership owner and car buyer.


Dealership visits*

Visited several dealerships to explore the cross-channel experience from online search to test drive



Surveyed people who had purchased a car between July 2019 and July 2020.


Competitive analysis

Conducted comparison to understand what online systems were currently in use


Research deliverables
Sampling of research deliverables
Sampling of research deliverables

If the success metric is profit, COVID has positively affected business. However, customer satisfaction has been more difficult to achieve. They're a little more challenging, a little less patient, and have a lot of layered complexities with solving their problems right now.

Dealership owner

Now with things starting to shut down again, I don’t know if they’ll limit the availability of test drives. If that were the case, I think they would need to do something more to convince me to spend that much money on a purchase without seeing it. That would be kind of scary.

Recent car buyer
General research insights

Safety: The state/province-wide protocols in place for car dealerships were not being reliably followed. There was often confusion about the protocols.

Need for increased support: Some dealerships used touchless forms of support such as live chats with agents during hours (and bots after hours). Many employed contactless delivery options, but it was often hard to reach a real person to answer questions.

Unclear expectations: Historically, there was a general lack of transparency and trust in dealerships. Now, more uncertainty has been introduced from both sides about the exact protocols and around times of operation.

Crowding: Automotive repair services and dealerships had been deemed “necessary” and remained open. Many parts were back-ordered, resulting in longer repair waiting times, and waiting rooms were crowded, potentially putting workers and customers at risk.

Customizing Options: Customers preferred to buy from a dealership that offers their preferred experience; catering to customers is crucial.

Key areas to explore

Based on our body of research, the team identified three key areas with room for improvement. Each solution has an app component and an extension of solutions for both the dealer and customer sides. We focused on contactless shopping and test drives.

Key areas of exploration
Key areas of exploration


From here, we moved to ideation, completing a number of online workshops using Mural to further explore the key areas of focus identified from our research. 


Current state journey maps

Ahead of pre-ideation exercises, each of us explored a stage of the car-buying journey.


User stories

We identified user stories, and narrowed them down to six key findings.


How Might We exercise

We used HMW to find key opportunity areas on which to base the sketching exercise.


Crazy 8s and solution sketching*

The team ideated through Crazy 8’s then rapidly sketched out ideas based on the top 5 opportunities.


Idea portfolio

We mapped each idea based on impact and feasibility to highlight areas of focus.


Dot voting

The team used dot voting to narrow down ideas and remain aligned on where we wanted to head.


Ideation sampling

The deliverables from the ideation phase included a final current state journey map and solution sketches. I moderated the Crazy 8s and Solution Sketching workshops.

Sampling of ideation deliverables
Sampling of ideation deliverables


Proposed idea (holistic design solution)

We wanted to create a solution that provided safety to customers but also allowed staff dealership to retain their jobs. 

The idea which resonated the most with the team incorporated digital touchpoints into a personal shopping experience with existing salespeople being trained to take on the role of personal shopper. The image below showcases the phases of the experience broken into simplified front and back end touchpoints.

High level view of personal car shopper experience
High level view of personal car shopper experience


As a team, we generated a future state journey map to help guide both the customer’s and dealership staff’s journeys. We then used a number of prototyping methods to get to our final solution, exploring both the digital and physical spaces.


  1. The prospective customer makes the decision to purchase a new car.
  2. They log into the app to explore options, completing a survey to note their preferences. 
  3. On the back end, the salesperson (personal shopper) receives the new customer in the shoppers’ queue and runs their preference analytics on the available cars.
  4. Once a set of cars has been curated, the salesperson chats with the customer to confirm their selections and set up an appointment for a test drive. 
  5. To prepare for the test drive, the salesperson moves the car to a designated parking spot in the lot and places the keys in a lockbox. 
  6. The customer securely checks in, takes the keys and the car out for a test drive, and chats with the salesperson during the experience. 
  7. The parking lot spot is reset for the next test drive appointment.
  8. Once the car returns to the lot, it is moved to a sanitization station for thorough cleaning.
  9. The customer begins the paperwork process.
Future state journey map
Future state journey map
Prototyping exploration

Each of us tackled one portion of the journey with different prototyping methods.


Service blueprint

Front + back end actions of service journey to connect the entire experience.

Personal car shopper service blueprint
Personal car shopper service blueprint


Linking the user interfacing to the physical experience to show general scenarios.

Appointment booking and sanitization station
Appointment booking and sanitization station

Digital scriptwriting

Chat dialogue experience representing the initial dialogue between customer and dealer.

Dialog between customer, shopper, sanitization staff
Dialog between customer, shopper, sanitization staff

Cardboard modeling*

Physical evidencing to understand the feel and space of this part of the safety cleaning process.

Cardboard model of sanitization station
Cardboard model of sanitization station


Proposed options to visualize how keys and cars are arranged and distributed within the system.

Lockbox, parking lot layout, and first stabs at branding
Lockbox, parking lot layout, and first stabs at branding

Business origami & visualization

Walkthrough exploring physical touchpoints mapped out in each phase.

Lego and toy car modelling of parking lot layout and lockbox
Lego and toy car modelling of parking lot layout and lockbox


We started designing wireframes for the digital portions of the journey.

Kiosk screen and dealership employee portal
Kiosk screen and dealership employee portal

Brand identity & style guide

Our team designed a fresh bright palette, with the goal of making car shopping feel bright and fun. We conducted another workshop to determine the name: NextDrive, which we felt reflected future thinking.


  • Green to reflect savings and a fresh experience paired with a comforting teal for a supportive feel
  • Secondary colors include a mix of brights that are both fun and attention-grabbing which will be crucial in parking lot settings in signage and directing the flow of customers
Branding and style guide
Branding and style guide



We approached test users to evaluate specific prototypes. Here are some of the takeaways from usability testing. 

Mobile Chat – Personal Shopper to Customer
Chat screens between customer and shopper
Chat screens between customer and shopper
  • Keep the copy conversational. Actually read through the conversation and think if this is something that you would actually say when shopping for a car.
  • Include a picture of the personal shopper to maintain a sort of personalization to the experience.
  • Be sure to list the name of the personal shopper to also maintain a human & personal  element to  the shopping experience.
  • When mocking up the prototype, include an actual mobile keyboard placeholder to give a full experience when going through the artboards. 

Walkthrough of dealership app

Walked people through the customer journey and app features, and asked them to role play and give feedback.

  • 80% would use the service – millennial users more likely to be interested, although older parties very concerned about COVID said they’d use this if they absolutely had to car shop
  • Desire for the capability to share profiles or accounts with others (specifically wanting to loop in a spouse, or help an older parent as they shopped)
  • Cones feel pretty bulky to store and use – way to make this more manageable? Small 6″ marker cones on top of the trunk instead of traditional traffic type? Also would prevent visually disrupting the look of the lot
  • Is there a way to build in a light network as a higher budget solution if willing to invest as part of the kiosks to mark dirty cars? Similar to Westfield parking structure [in Los Angeles, CA]?
  • Car mats will get dirty when the sanitization worker drives the car to a new parking spot. Can mat be put on after the car is moved? Or can we evidence with a paper off the rearview mirror or steering wheel?
  • 30 minutes may not be long enough of a cleaning window – need to look into how long car cleanings take and account for any backups or delays

Check-in kiosk

Scenario interviews conducted to test ideation of check-In contactless voice-activated kiosk.

High-fidelity images of check-in kiosk screen at parking lot entrance
High-fidelity images of check-in kiosk screen at parking lot entrance
  • Overall feedback provided was positive and easily digested.
  • Wireframes of mid-fidelity XD prototype were also validated by mock users to improve design elements and inform reiteration of design to improve ease and functionality.
  • Key Takeaway: Use bold color to highlight desired voice commands, add language option, and create a stationary toolbar at bottom to improve navigation.

Parking lot

To evaluate the parking lot structure and customer journey, we tested users by having them walk through the parking lot. Takeaways from walk-through interviews:

Parking lot models
Parking lot models
  • 90% of users liked the parking lot layout and thought it was easy and clear to get from point A to B
  • Signage placement is important for the user journey
  • People liked that the Sanitization Station is visible from the guest parking lot
  • Need to make sure there is enough room by the kiosk for safety
  • Suggestion: have a separate entrance/exit, move kiosk to be directly attached to guest parking lot

Sanitization Station*

Evaluators were prompted to imagine this “behind the scenes” process to prepare a car for a test drive and were shown a mobile prototype of a cleaning checklist/log and the sanitization station video. 

The original mobile checklist was designed as a touch screen interface.

Green feedback:

  • They all liked the idea of cleaning between test drives, stating this would give them comfort
  • Generally liked the idea of the cleaner accessing a checklist to make sure everything is covered
  • Liked the mat placed in the car as proof the car had been cleaned

Red feedback:

  • How to keep the car clean when moved out of the sanitization station?
  • Cleaner touching the phone screen for the checklist may increase the risk of contamination
  • How to be confident that the cleaner wiped down all the areas on the list?


  • Reduce the need to touch the screen to access the cleaning checklist by changing it to a voice-guided system. 

Final assets

After gathering our feedback, we applied the critiques to our designs, culminating in a series of videos and images showcasing each section of the journey. Some of these assets were used to create the video ad.

1. Customer selects car preferences within the app.

2. Customer chats with a salesperson (personal shopper). 

3. Salesperson curates car selection and sends list to customer.

4. Customer confirms scheduled test drive. 

5. Customer pulls up to the dealership lot. 

6. Bright signage guides the customer upon arrival.

7. Customer checks in securely at the contactless, voice-activated kiosk.

8. Once ID is verified, the lockbox opens and reveals the key for the test drive vehicle. 

9. Floor mats provide physical evidence of cars being cleaned between test drives.*

10. Customer can chat with the salesperson via video and phone during the test drive to maintain physical distancing.

11. After the test drive, cars are moved to the sanitization station.

12. Cars are cleaned following a voice-activated checklist and prepped for the next test drive.*

Play with sound on to hear voice prototype.

Lessons learned

  • Completing a service design project remotely, exploring a problem holistically, was both challenging and rewarding!
  • We were encouraged to try out a variety of research and ideation methods, and though it was great to gain exposure to them, in some ways it hindered progress. At times, it was hard to come to a consensus because teammates wanted to continue seeking more and more data. To counter this, I challenged them to look at patterns that were already forming from the data collected; this helped reassure them we were on the right path. In spite of completing one more round of ideation, we ended up focusing on the areas of exploration that had already been defined.
  • As with the remote Urban Plan-AR project, maintaining both synchronous and asynchronous communication helped tremendously to keep us on track.

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