User Experience Design case study

MATTI RICHOUX 23.07.2019

So close, yet so far away.
I like Forza Motorsport 7. It's an exciting and engaging racing game with the latest and greatest in cars, tracks, graphics - you name it. In fact, the core gameplay is great - it's a top notch car racing sim with plenty of challenges.

Sadly, the greatest challenge in Forza 7 presents itself before you're anywhere near the asphalt - namely, navigating its user interface without running out of patience. Forza 7 suffers from some pretty bad User Experience Design.

In this article I'll solve some of its most pressing problems, and also talk a bit about the design principles behind my choices.
🖐 I would like to point out that in this article, I make no distinction between myself as a designer and as a user. In a 'real' scenario, User Experience Design should be backed up by qualitative and quantitative user research, and not just the whims of the Designer.

Problem #1: Picking a car is a hot mess

All right, so you want to race, do you? Then you need a car. You would think that Forza 7 would make it easy for us to pick a car, being a racing game and all.

Sadly, it's not. They are hard to find, they are hard to purchase, and they are almost impossible to keep track of.
What's going on here?
Have a look at the above picture, and tell me what you think the difference is between "Car Collection", "Buy Car" and "My Garage". You may think that "Car Collection" is your car collection.

It's not.

"Car Collection" is a place where you can buy cars. In Forza 7, you would buy a car based on the division type of the race you want to enter, for example: American Muscle cars for American Muscle car races or Formula 1 cars for Formula 1 races.

"Car Collection", however, groups cars by "tiers".

Let's say I want to join an American Muscle car race. I need an American Muscle car. I press "Car Collection". How am I supposed to find anything in this screen?:
Who on earth greenlighted this?
Instead, if you want to find and buy a car, "Buy Car" is where you need to go.
Look, a clear label!
In "Buy Car", you are able to filter cars by manufacturer, division, year and class, to make it easy for you to find a car for your race division. Sadly, this page is troubled by a filtering system that does more to frustrate you than to help you. I have listed the problems below.

  • What is the difference between "Division" and "Class", again? Is that the same as a tier? These names are not intuitive.
  • There is no way to mark a car or a manufacturer as "favorite".
  • The filter resets every time you exit the screen.
  • Why do I have to press X to "Apply Filters" when I am done choosing filters? (This is a recurring problem we will revisit.)
  • There is no easy way to see whether I already own one of the cars I see in the shop. This leads to accidentally buying multiple copies of the same car.

Speaking of cars I already own - let's say I want to go into "My Garage" from here (which is where my cars are). I then have to go out of "Buy Car", back the main menu, and press "My Garage". That's annoying.
Surely "Buy Car" and "My Garage" could be combined into one? 🤔
Interesting fact! Other places in the game, such as in the pre-race screen, "Buy Car" and "My Garage" are connected. Here, you press "Car Select", and there you can further toggle to "Buy Car". This is inconsistent.
A solution in plain sight.
I get the feeling that the creators of Forza 7 wanted to fill up the tiles under "Cars" in the main screen. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of usability for the user.

My solutions to these problems:
  • Remove "Car Collection" altogether: it's pointless and confusing.
  • Consistently combine "Buy Car" and "My Garage".
  • Be able to favorite cars and manufacturers.
  • Don't reset the filtering when you exit a screen.
  • Clearly label cars in the shop as owned or not owned.
  • Remove "class" from cars and classify them to divisions alone.

  • This should make the whole ordeal a lot easier.

Problem #2: Inconsistency in the mental model

💡 Imagine your office gets a new toaster. You stand in front of it, holding your untoasted slice of bread, eager to try the new machine. Here's the funny thing. Most probably, you know how to operate this toaster despite having never touched it before. How? Because you have a mental model of how a toaster works.

The same thing happens when a user navigates an app, webpage, game, or any digital product with an interface for the very first time. He or she will heavily rely on his or her mental model to do so.

When a user interacts with an interface, he or she will have a set of preconceptions about how to navigate it, because of previous experiences with similar products. This is a psychological phenomenon that a designer should embrace and take advantage of. That way, as a designer, you can spend less time teaching the user how to navigate your product, and spend more time developing its features.
The mental model of the xbox controller in game settings: press A to choose or select something,
and B to go back to a previous screen.
Much like toasters, game controllers also have mental models attached to them. Users have certain expecations of what the different buttons do. Specifically, when it comes to the Xbox controller, players have a certain mental model connected to the A and B buttons in in-game setting screens, as you can see in the above image.

Generally, pressing A selects things, and pressing B takes you back one step, usually saving whatever you did in that screen.

You can imagine the problems you would experience as a user if a game were to break this basic rule, right?

Let's take a look at how Forza 7 breaks this rule.
So far, so good. A to Select, B to go back.
Most of Forza 7's menu navigation follows the mental model of the A and B button, as you can see in the image above. However, this is not the case in its game settings.

In the settings screen below, you can adjust things like your camera view, damage indicators and speedometer metrics when you race. You change the adjustable option by going left or right with your joystick.

The problem is that pressing the A button will confirm the choices you have made and take you back to the previous screen, while pressing the B button will cancel the choices you have made and take you back to the previous screen.
The driver's reaction in the background is purely coincidental.
This does not match the mental model for the Xbox controller, Here is how the two behaviors compare:

A button B button
Forza 7 Save and quit Cancel and quit
Everywhere Else Select Save and quit

I can't count how many times I have gone to the settings page, made some changes, and then pressed B wanting to save and quit, but in stead, losing all my recently made settings.

Why do you do this to me? I just... want to race my car.

My solution: Remove the A button functionality altogether, and have the B button save changes and quit. Now, there is no chance of deleting all your previously selected options.

In addition to that, I have labeled the button properly in the bottom right corner, to remove any doubt as to what exactly happens when you press B:
Clearly labeled buttons, now matching the mental model.

Problem #3: Clunky pre-race screen

In Forza 7, the pre-race screen is an important screen, because it's the last thing you see before jumping into any race.

Here you can do last-minute changes to your car, change opponent difficulty, check the starting grid and to other pre-race things. Unfortunately, the designers have made it fairly easy to reach stuff that isn't important, and hard to reach stuff that is. This page suffers from bad Information Architecture.

Let's explore the concept of Information Architecture a bit, before we see how it applies to Forza 7.
💭 Information architecture is all about organization of information in a clear and logical way. Such organization follows a clear purpose — helping users navigate a large amount of content.

Good information architecture enables users to easily adjust to the functionality of a digital interface and find everything they need without big effort.
A simple mockup of a card sorting exercise.
Card sorting is a pretty well-established technique in Information Architecture design when figuring out how users understand and categorize information.

In order to create user-centered design, it's naturally important to know how your target audience would group and label the information your website in a way that makes sense to them.
Flipping through tabs - a common pre-race ritual in Forza 7.
Forza 7's pre-race screen does not make too much sense.

Let's first address the two tabs "Race Info" and "Setup" as you can see above.

The default tab is named "Race Info". However, the buttons have nothing to do with "Race Info". This is confusing and inconsistent with the next tab, labeled "Setup", which has options that actually "Setup" your race.

Here is what the designers chose to put in the default "Race Info" tab. Remember, this is where the really important stuff needs to be.
  1. Car Collection (Buy a new car). Notwithstanding the earlier criticism towards this feature: are players really more likely to buy a new car rather than choose among the cars they already own right before a race? From my experience: rarely.

  2. Race Shop (Buy boosters to increase the score you get after a race). This page is actually just a sub-page of the "Mods" page, which is a page that is already accessible from this tab. Confusing? Yeah. That means, we essentially have two buttons to buy boosters in this tab.

Considering all the different things a player might want to do before a race, we can improve the use of space here. Below is a quick card sorting exercise of the pre-race screen.
  1. We define all possible actions
  2. We sort all possible actions by type
  3. We categorize actions based on importance
A simple card sorting exercise helps us separate what's important from what's not.
Here's my solution, which now makes it easy and quick to get ready for a race:
This will let you race more, and flip menus less.

Problem #4: It's not easy to do basic things

All right, so we've made it through car selection, game settings and the pre-race screen. Great!

When playing the actual game, there are certain things you do in Forza 7 very often. In the Single Player mode, the following things happen very regularly:
  1. Start the Race
  2. Drive too fast and smash your car up real good
  3. Restart the Race
Sadly, restarting your race is anything but simple in Forza 7, and forces the user through multiple screens:
Restarting a race is a lot of work.
This loop should be drastically simplified, because it happens all the time. Here is my simple solution. Add a "Restart Race" button to the pause menu. Pressing this would immediately restart the game.
Restarting a race has never been easier.

Final Thoughts

Forza 7 is a good game, but is unfortunately plagued by some strange UI choices that really takes away from the user experience. Too much time is spent in the game's settings, fighting your way through menus rather than racing. Forza 7 could vastly improve some of its problems by follwing widespread UX design principles.

This would make it easier for the user to navigate, understand and use the game's interface.

Thank you for reading!