Interview: David Lyon

Interview: David Lyon

Cadillac is on a path to rejuvenation. The latest step involves new touch-screen technology, the Cadillac User Experience (CUE), which mimics the Apple iPad in functionality. The system debuts on the company’s new XTS sedan early next year.

An eight-inch, LCD touch-screen displays customizable menus and icons that can be manipulated by swiping and other finger gestures. Everything is designed to be simple, uncluttered and intuitive. Information on each menu is paired down. Sensors below the screen detect your hand reaching toward it and prompt more information and buttons to appear. All of the hard keys on the panel below the screen are static and touch-sensitive—there are no mechanical button or knobs. The three-core processor and other computer hardware necessary to run CUE are scattered throughout the car to free hidden storage space behind a flip-up panel.

CUE is a new way of doing things, utilizing technology that didn’t exist before. Complex spoke with GM’s head of interior design about what this means for Cadillac.

Complex: Because of CUE, are we going to see car interiors laid out in new ways?

Dave Lyon: We wrestle with that a lot: the screen and its position. You almost have to start with that before you do anything else in the interior. It has to be within reach, and now that we’re using pinching and swiping gestures, it has to be closer to the driver. If you have it at the wrong angle, you’re going to have crazy reflection and glare. There’s an absolute sweet spot on each car where this thing can go. Now the problem is, all interiors are going to start looking the same, and that’s not good. Part of my job is to make a Chevy look like a Chevy, to make a Cadillac look like a Cadillac, and never the two shall be confused. And that’s hard to do when you have such an integral part of the whole interior architecture governed purely by function. But we’ve found there are plenty of other opportunities to be expressive.

Complex: What are you working on for the future?

DL: We still sit around and brainstorm, “well, you know, it would’ve been cool if we could’ve done this.” There are all kinds of things you could do with proximity sensors. You could move pages away without touching the screen. Or if you wanted to access that storage in the center of the car, we could have it so you have your own crazy witchcraft, Masonic symbol that you have to do it just right, and then it opens up. So anyway, it’s just really neat because the creativity does not stop. We’re kind of still sneaking things in. Up until the last moment we launch, we’ll be sneaking things in. And then next year, we’ll sneak in more.

Complex: What about further down the road?

DL: Maybe the screen isn’t within reach unless you’re reaching for it and it comes to you. Once we get on this philosophical track of saying, “these things kind of present themselves intuitively,” we can still take it a lot further than what we’re showing here today. And moving displays, they don’t scare us. We can do that, and we can do it with reliability.

Complex: That’s a big shift from the risk-averse engineering mentality that has governed GM in the past.

DL: Yeah, well, the people that were selected for this project were maybe a little bit more predisposed to taking risks than usual. But I got to say, this engineering team that we worked with on this system, we put a lot of risk in front of them. You can see a difference when we started playing with these things. They’re like, “it would need some development time, but I think we could do that.” Ten years ago, these guys were so scared of their own shadow, I’m surprised we could even put a car together.

Complex: What does this system do for the brand in terms of reaching a younger audience?

DL: There’s this old adage in the car design business, you can sell an older person a young person’s car, but you can’t sell a young person an old person’s car. Now the trick for us was, we talk about being able to reach a newer, younger customer. Really, our customer is anybody who shows up with a desire to buy a Cadillac and a check. And I don’t care how old you are, and I don’t care how technical you are. Somebody who walks in and doesn’t even have a smart phone, there’s no reason to send them away. When we first started developing CUE, we were going to have a simple setting where everything was kind of dumbed down. No connectivity, everything in big type, and that was kind of for the 70-and-older crowd. And then an advanced setting for everybody else. But then we realized that just by using good industrial design and common sense, it became intuitive enough. So if you were just listening to AM 950 on the radio, there’s very little information staring back at you. The type is big, you can tell who you’re listening to and what station you’re on from the next car over. And that’s just good design. But when you see all of that, it doesn’t look like we made it for people with bifocals.  

Tags: cadillac, general-motors, interior-design
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