Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 17th January 2019

As car manufacturing has developed, it’s become increasingly linked to human emotions. Studies have shown that social and emotional factors are the biggest indicators of customer behaviour. This has shaped how designers approach cars and how chief Toyota engineer Randy Stephens has adapted to current trends. Stephens has worked for 26 years to perfect features like the cup holder.

In an interview with Vox, Stephens revealed Toyota used “customer clinics” to decide on the direction of a new car. The clinics are made up of 100 potential car buyers from different backgrounds. Through this approach, Stephens has learned which features make people feel safe. This has provided an insight into the emotional connection that people feel to cars.

Stephens has explained the evolution of four of the most used interior Toyota features:

Cup holders

“Early on, customers wanted two things – a very, very large cup holder and a lid on the cup holder. Now people are a little more reasonable about the size of the cup holder but they want a good-looking design. We have customers bring their cars into the surveys, and when we go outside to look, they always have something in the cup holder. People are using the space for a drink or their phone or a charger.”


“Some of the basics for us is a big screen. The bigger the screen, the better. Also simple buttons – reducing the amount of buttons but not eliminating them is important. In the past, we would have complicated menus and lots of options, and it got to be just too much. Not it’s about a simple user experience and prioritising what they use the most.”


“People prefer a fairly simple button with a short stroke, only 1 or 2 millimetres tall, but big enough so you know where it is in the dark. It’s really about how it fits with the interior you are presenting it with. A button itself is really hard to judge.”

“The previous Avalon has capacitive switches, meaning we took away the button and put an area where you would touch like an iPhone, and we did get more complaints than we would like to see. Customers preferred a physical switch, a button they could touch. They really have a safety and security feel.”


“We had an idea for an algorithm to predict where customers would like to go – so if they searched for Starbucks on navigation and they were on a long drive, we would predict they wanted to go to Starbucks. We put it together, and people overwhelmingly did not like it. Over 60% or 70% said they would not buy a car if it did that.”

“They just did not like the perception that Toyota was going to be watching them or tracking them, even though that’s what Google and Apple and everyone else does.”