Life-enhancing technologies can begin as small ideas -- from identifying a problem to hearing insights directly from the users themselves.

This is a mantra by which Riley Winton lives. Recently recognized by TU Automotive as a finalist for the Rising Star Award, Riley is the User Experience (UX) Concept Manager on the EPIC Experience Team, which is focused on transforming the in-car user experience. The team goes beyond traditional car audio, including UX, UI and Visual Identity design and leveraging technologies across HARMAN's Car Audio, Connected Car and Connected Services groups.

We sat down with Riley to get a better understanding of how he transforms new ideas into new experiences.

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Q: Please tell us about your role within the EPIC Experience Team and how you came to work at HARMAN.

RW: I started at HARMAN in 2015 as an Acoustic Systems Engineer, tuning car audio systems and working with customers to build real production audio systems. I discovered the opportunity when I met Chris Ludwig, VP of the EPIC Experience team, at a career fair at Georgia Tech - our Alma Mater. We connected right away through music, as we’re both percussionists and drummers. From there, I progressed into my current role of UX Concept Manager. The best word to describe my work is multifaceted. One day I’m brainstorming next-generation concept strategies for an audio brand, the next day I’m breaking out the soldering iron to test some prototypes. It’s always something different, and I’m blessed to be able to learn from some pretty incredible colleagues.

Q: Speaking of Georgia Tech, you studied psychology as an undergraduate. Does your background in psychology impact how you approach user experience design?

RW: Absolutely! The insight I gained during my undergraduate studies has made me a more productive engineer and helps me ensure users will be willing to try new technologies. I also learned the value of a “fail fast” approach to ideation, which is a philosophy that encourages creators to quickly put their ideas in the hands of real users and get real human feedback in order to catch failures and make improvements sooner in the process.

Often times people get caught up trying to perfect something, constantly thinking and tweaking without ever getting user input. I’ve learned that many times just getting something out there can yield such a rich amount of insight. The users will show you what works and what doesn’t work, and often their opinions can defy expectations.

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Q: Of the projects you’ve worked on at HARMAN, which has been your favorite and why?

RW: Definitely Moodscape. This is a technology that intuitively adjusts in-car audio and visuals based on the driver’s mood, delivering music with personalized sound levels to help passengers prepare for whatever is next in their day. It was such a big vision, and we delivered an amazing experience that covered so many modalities: light, touch, and of course, sound. It was powerful to witness users’ reactions when it was presented at CES 2018.

The first time I sat and enjoyed the Moodscape experience with my team, I’ll admit we were a bit emotional. We were exhausted from the overnight coding sessions, the hours of hacking, and the detailed tuning, but when the final product was about to ship out for the show, we took some time to enjoy what we’d created.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration when designing new lifestyle audio experiences?

RW: I try not to bring many of my own preconceived notions to the table but focus on the feedback from the users themselves. For example, just ask people: “What bugs you about your audio system?” You’ll likely get ten different responses from ten different people!

Q: The auto industry, like most, is highly focused on capturing the millennial market. As a millennial yourself, what do you think this demographic needs from the automotive industry today and how does that influence your work at HARMAN?

I think millennials will benefit from vehicles and transportation providing them the opportunity to slow down. Too often products targeting millennials pressure us to “do more, go faster, be better.” But in reality, a more tactful, methodical approach yields better results. We often get bombarded with so much noise that it gets hard to separate the quantity of tasks from quality execution of those tasks. Although everyone is living increasingly busy lives, the success of our day shouldn’t be measured by how many emails we send.

Millennials spend a lot of time each day in and around cars, so why can’t we leverage this space to help improve true quality of life? This is the ideology I take to HARMAN and that influences my work, with one pertinent example being our Moodscape concept I mentioned earlier. With this technology, you can take time to remove yourself from the noise and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and comfort of your own customized, relaxing environment. Even just a few minutes of this “mental switch-off” can yield some impressive clarity of thought. And don’t worry, those emails will still be there when you’re done!