What I learnt about UX from Fast ‘N’ Loud

Over the years we’ve had some addictive bad telly brought to UK shores by Channel5. But something has changed and in the last 12 months Discovery, a channel traditionally respected as the younger, perhaps late teen sibling of National Geographic has become the home of what @jvbates has referred to as Red Neck TV.

Lately, my favourite has been Fast ‘N’ Loud, a show where the boys at the Gas Monkey Garage buy old cars, put a bit of work into them and flip them by the end of the episode. Watching how Rich and Aaron, the founders of the business operate, I’ve become inspired by what they do and how they put it all together, but more importantly what they consider a good job well done.

Defining the User Experience

Ultimately, car restoration is a true user experience. If you’re a mechanic, the sound of an original 68’ Coupe DeVille is like sweet music, the craft put into the blend of design and power of the American classic could be equated to the love some of us in the web have for Swiss Type, or the nuances of a well defined stylesheet. To the consumer there is the dream of owning something they could never have from new, or because they weren’t born when the ‘77 Bandit Trans Am hit the dealership. For some it will be the opportunity to relive their youth, the glory days of an era gone by.

Then you have the collectors & petrolheads, fanatical about the finess of a well laid out dashboard, the blends of steel, carbon, plastics, wood and the smell of leather and gasoline.

All of these personas must be considered when they set out to find something in the auctions or local ads for a ride to buy and bump After all, it is no good putting your resourcing into a car that will never be bought, never be driven, never be cared for.

Roles and responsibilities

The GMG workshop is a small team. Richard and Aaron run the business, they pick the cars that get brought in and between them work out what they need to do in order to get it into the state they need to turn a profit.

Sounding familiar? It should. We are doing this every day, except where many of us fail is where the Gas Monkey boys succeed. They don’t try to create the perfect example.

It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e perfect

I have written in the past about my disliking for working with anyone who has the notion of pixel perfect design, a print-bred notion that you can’t control on the web. Well here we have a group who are taking the anti-pixel perfect approach to physical products.

Quite often the cars brought into the garage are pretty beat up. On the outside there could be tragic rust spots, clapped out interiors, but the engine block may be OK. Most certainly it needs a service and it may even need a major component completely replacing.

Still sounding familiar?

Aaron sets about the strategy for getting the car to the point they need it. They have a fixed budget usually set in man days in which to turn the project around plus an idea of expenses before they buy the car. You can tell that this is a pretty accurate estimate based on experience.

Meanwhile, Rich is off getting in the next project, he wants a car in the parking lot ready to be wheeled into the garage once the last one is finished.

Teaming Up

During the procurement phase of a project Rich will often consult with friend Dennis Collins, a car collector on whether it’s a good project to go into. Occasionally Dennis will also invest in the project to get it off the ground.

With the overal concept for what they want to do mapped out, Aaron assembles the team, this may include one or all the mechanics in the workshop, a paint sprayer and when required he’ll call in specialists like detailers, surface experts or upholsterers.

With a team put together they get cracking. There’s just the one primary job going through the garage at the time and having the whole team work on it at the same time means that things come in on-time.

Incomplete to you – completed to me

Crucially what has inspired me is that their projects are not complete. They work on how do we get this shitpile rat run and turn it into something that does what it needs to do. It isn’t always about delivering the wrap around bow, that may well be the fun part that the next owner wants to get their fingers on – so let them!

In doing so, more often than not the guys turn a profit on the project and things still look good but crucially every car they restore gets driven away – not towed.

In one of my favourite episodes the crew needed to get an engine block cleaned up and sent it away to be resprayed. When it came back it had been completely restored in a striking cherry red to match the engine bay. Unfortunately, they’d purposefully left the patina of the chassis giving this hot rod a rather nice Mad Max vibe. What did they do? They dripped paint stripper and brake fluids all over the block and bay to allow the paint to corrode back to match the outside.

Don’t over design one area only for it to get let down by its surroundings (there are few examples of this I have seen lately).

Takeaway

  • Assess the damage
  • Come up with a tangible delivery
  • Get your team together and bring in help when you need it, don’t be limited by your own capabilities
  • Don’t over do it, it’s a car all it needs to be able to do is drive on the road legally
  • Not everything needs go faster stripes

Published by

Andy Parker

User Experience Designer, headbanger, biker, skater, gamer from Brighton UK.