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Automotive UX course at UMSI fueled by graduates entering the industry

A student sits in the drivers seat of the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq and plays with the display of the display. She wears a sweater and glasses.
Jaleah Green, an art and design student who is also studying UX, gets a look at features on the curved seamless LED infotainment and instrument display of the electric 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ. Lecturer James Rampton, a product designer at GM, designed features on the display.

Wednesday, 10/12/2022

On a windy Monday evening in September, James Rampton entered his automotive UX class with a playful look on his face. 

“We’re going to cut class early today,” he said, smiling. “And then we’re going on a little trip because I have a surprise for you.” 

An SUV parked in front of a tall bell tower
An electric 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ parked near Burton Memorial Tower during the Introduction to Automotive User Experience class.

The surprise, students would later learn, was a 2023 Cadillac Lyriq. Parked just outside the Burton Memorial Tower at the University of Michigan, the car gave students an opportunity to explore its user experience and design in real time with the help of Rampton.

This vehicle has gotten a lot of attention lately because of its screen size; a 33” diagonal display that combines the driver and center consoles in a singular LED display. It’s also the first vehicle in Cadillac’s transformation into a fully electric brand. 

Cadillac donated the vehicle for the day to let students explore it for class in hopes that it inspires the next generation of designers.

I thought this was the coolest thing in the world,” said Grace Garmo, a first-year Bachelor of Science in Information student at the University of Michigan School of Information. 

I really love how the class has expanded the way that I look at UX, and this particular lesson was memorable,” she adds. 

Students in the School of Information Automotive UX design class get a hands-on look at new features in a Cadillac LYRIQ near the UM bell tower
Bachelor of Science in Information student Grace Garmo reacts as she and other students get a look at features of the electric 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ.

An intermittent lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Information, Rampton brings years of experience as a lead product designer at General Motors. In fact, he designed the alert framework, and the vehicle info app, for the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq. This includes information and notification alerts about the vehicle's tire pressure and temperature. 

He was excited for the chance to show students what it’s like to work as a UX designer for a car manufacturer and watch your work come to life. 

“It’s been a thrill to bring my experience to students and watch them play with the design in the car,” he says. “Students loved it and it put a smile on my face.” 

The automotive UX course is new to UMSI and has been part of a series of special-interest classes for BSI students. The class emerged in response to more graduating students entering the automotive industry. 

Students stand around an electric SUV with the hood open
Lecturer James Rampton, center, shows features of the electric 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ. Rampton, a product designer at GM, designed features of the unique curved infotainment screen on the vehicle.

For the last month, students have been learning about how information is organized in vehicles and discussing safety, usability, audience and ethics. They’ve been challenged to think about the UX design in both luxury and economy cars. 

“It’s made me look at information differently,” says Briarre Johnson, a first year BSI student. “There are so many features that impact the driver’s experience and safety and the considerations for designing a car are different than if you were designing for an app.” 

Briarre stands being an SUV
Bachelor of Science in Information student Briarre Johnson.

The class has been widely successful and has a full roster of BSI students and five Master of Science in Information students taking it. 

On the day Rampton brought in the Cadillac, students took turns entering the car, playing with its features and learning about what characteristics are common in a vehicle experience and how users can interact with them. They enjoyed experimenting with the various apps the car offers its users, as well as its luxury components. 

“It was really fascinating to study the car’s components rather than looking at something in class on a projector,” says Briarre. “It’s also just cool that he’s our professor and worked on it.” 

Noor Hindi, marketing and communications writer at UMSI