Awareness-Centered Design

Designing for external communication

Oliver Ivic-Matijas


Communication is key, also in traffic

Human road users communicate with each other through a variety of explicit and implicit signals, like hand signs or driving dynamics, thus resolving unclear situations and promoting traffic safety. With the introduction of automated vehicles into road traffic, replacing these communication structures becomes essential.

Awareness-Centered Design enables designers in the automotive industry to shape this communication ability based on scientific insights. To enable this, design principles have been defined that combine knowledge from various scientific areas. Integrated into a problem-driven and iterative design process, the principles come to life in new products and systems through the Awareness-Centered Design Kit.

This project was developed in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz.

Shaping autonomous communication, card-by-card

The Awareness-Centered Design Kit is based on a problem-oriented design process and bundles up the research of this work into a step-by-step process.

The Design Kit consists of two components that build the problem-oriented design process: the Design Board and the Process Cards, which are available both in digital form and in print.

The Process Cards are divided into three card categories, which are used at different stages of the process: the Principle Cards, the Challenge Cards, and the Testing Cards. At the start of the process, these decks of cards are placed in their respective card stations.

The heart of Awareness-Centered Design: The Principle Cards [2][3][4][5][6][7]

The Principle Cards represent the Awareness-Centered Design principles, which are the main outcome of this work. These cards are differentiated by their color scheme from one category to another. Divided into the research fields of psychology, inclusivity, technology, and design, the design principles guide the designer without preventing creative freedom.

Your provocative copilot: The Challenge Cards [2][8]

The Challenge Cards present extra challenges that originate directly from the research results in the area of external communication. As part of this work, a design challenge for each category was defined, in addition to the design principles drawn from the gathered insights.

Make it work out with the Testing Cards [2][9][10][11][12][13]

No solution goes untested. As the final card category, the use of Testing Cards ensures the functionality of the developed designs by introducing user tests. These can be conducted on a small scale and test the concepts for effectiveness and comprehensibility. The descriptive side of the card is only revealed once a test has been conducted.

With the cards placed in their respective card station, the process can begin.

The process begins with defining the Problem Space in the center of the Kit. The Problem Space is divided into a Problem Statement and a Mission Statement. The Problem Statement precisely describes the context and challenges faced in developing external communication in this sprint. The Mission Statement describes the use case for which the solution is being developed.

The first three subspaces, Psychology, Inclusivity, and Design, are located on a second board, which has to be placed above the main board. They form the starting point of the iterative process. On the right side, next to the subspaces, is the Uncertainty Station. The process always starts with the Principle Cards. The first Principle Card of the subspace the designer is working on is taken from the stack and placed in the Uncertainty Station.

Once a solution is developed for the previously chosen card, the card is moved from the Uncertainty Station to the Certainty Station in the respective subspace. This process repeats until no more Principle Cards are available for the subspace. Then the process repeats with the Challenge Cards until they too are in the Certainty Station.

The solution developed in the subspace is now detailed as a component in the Component Space of the main board. Once the new component is defined, a Testing Card is placed in the Component Space.

Once all components for all subspaces have been defined and tested, they are then transferred to the Solution Space.

In the solution space, the newly developed components challenge one another naturally through the principles they are based on. The final solution for external communication emerges through this design sprint.

Technology enables, it doesn't solve

In the Awareness-Centered Design Kit, technology does not solve the problem by itself. The developed solution is now evaluated for the necessary technology using the final Principle Cards and Challenge Cards. If the Technology Space has been successfully addressed, a final test evaluates the overall solution.

Challenging the Design Kit

Nothing goes untested, remember? To evaluate the Awareness-Centered Design Kit, a concept was developed by using the new design process:

AURA - Awareness-Utilizing Road User Assistant

A peek into the future: AURA [14][15]

AURA, short for Awareness-Utilizing Road User Assistant, introduces the first external communication concept that has been completely designed based on the Awareness-Centered Design Kit.


With a focus on communication with pedestrians, it presents an innovative communication concept that makes implicit signals explicitly perceptible. AURA allows road users, regardless of their mode of mobility, to take a peek into the future of the autonomous vehicle that they are observing at that moment. The system communicates braking and acceleration actions before they happen, through the use of the Driving Dynamics Display. This is intended to inform other road users about what to expect, ensuring that they always maintain an awareness of the situation.


In addition, AURA Pulse communicates the intention to stop visually. The Marker Lights dynamically change their position to the A and C-pillars, while illuminating the windshield in a pulsating rhythm. To enhance contrast and prevent confusion between the human occupant and the passengers, the windshield darkens upon stopping.


AURA Direct further enhances the unambiguity of the communication. While giving way to a pedestrian, AURA communicates directly to the person with the use of targeted audio spotlights. It communicates the intention verbally in two alternating languages. The message "I'm stopping, it's clear in front of me" is designed for inclusivity, communication the intention of the vehicle, and the situation in front of it. As the pedestrian leaves the audio spotlight of AURA Direct, they go back to a full situational awareness of the environment. No further distraction for people, that have to work with the environment.


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