In an effort to reimagine the next generation commercial compact van, a leading automotive manufacturer wanted to gain insight into van users’ commercial lives from a global perspective. We were asked to conduct an in-depth study of the working lives of private owner-operators and fleet managers across four countries. The client wanted to know what these users value in their current vehicle and potential experiences for the future. They had previously identified that the target audience was owners of small businesses who operate their vans on their own as part of the operations of the business, and fleet managers who make purchase, maintenance, and usage decisions. 


#experience design
#ethnographic immersions
#contextual inquiry
#focus groups
#global markets
#design strategy 

Research Questions

What are the characteristics of our current global customers for our van category?


What are the key use cases, perceptions, concerns, and design preferences for future vehicles?


What are future experience opportunities based on customers’ current patterns of use of vehicles, workarounds, and concerns?


Ethnographic Immersions

Primary research involved digging deep into commercial customers’ lives and mobility needs through half-day ethnographic immersions.  I conducted the following research with 17 participants across three cities in the US:
/ 9 immersions and ridealongs with owner-operators who have small to medium businesses

/ 8 interviews with fleet managers who work for multinational companies and manage fleets of more than 50 vehicles


Design Preference Workshop

In order to understand the target audience's design preferences, we conducted 7 workshops with 4 owner-operators per workshop and 1 workshop with 8 fleet managers (n=36). Image-based stimuli were used to delve into people's personal preferences, desirable and undesirable aesthetic choices for commercial vehicles, and sensory markers of high quality. While the interviews and impressions uncovered desired functional interactions, this workshop gave us insight into the visceral, emotional and behavioral design qualities they would like to associate with their vans.


Data Analysis

For each participant, we created a document that included the jobs to be done, use case scenarios, pains, and gains based on their current experiences. We then conducted a thematic analysis based on the research themes, across to identify cross-market patterns and market-specific insights. 


Project Outcomes

Experience Themes

Situated explanations of the van as a central work asset, an enabler of commercial fluidity and a physical space for work for many that go beyond transportation. Experience themes, derived from insights, were the foundation of experience opportunities. These guided the conceptualization of the next generation commercial compact van within the client’s design and product teams.

Made for many modes
People use their vans for a number of tasks, yet for the most part, the vehicle remains static and doesn't support different tasks. In switching modes, the van is made flexible and transformations are done quickly through modular components and storage solutions. 


Serve and protect

To manage risk, greater care is needed for the wellbeing of drivers and their passengers since drivers who work for fleets have varying degrees of skill, comfort, and experience driving these kinds of vehicles.

Maximize the working day
Time spent sitting idle create gaps to fill with managerial and administrative tasks. This kind of typical ‘office work’ is being done in the vehicle, but sufficient infrastructure and tools to be as productive are lacking. People find short term workarounds that are cumbersome.



Partner in my business
Van owner-operators view their vehicles as workhorses, and as a way to just get things done. There is an opportunity to elevate the capabilities and status of the van, and revealing new ways of doing business with a van.

© 2020 by Shruti Aditya Chowdhury