Does Tesla's edge over competitors come down to better UX?

Well, it’s certainly not down to interior build quality — but could be CEO tweet patterns? Maybe it’s the extensive machine learning and recharge networks that they’ve built. Or maybe - just maybe, they’re thinking a little bit more overall about the experiences of the people that use their products.

Let's start with online journeys. Take a few moments to go and look at the landing pages of some of the major car manufacturers out there, excluding Tesla. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to return.

Welcome back (it’s okay if you didn’t go check 😉 — you’ll get the gist below).

So I’m sure that you probably noticed that these other car manufacturers’ landing pages are mostly similar in layout and visual tone. They generally throw some marketing jargon at you, a sales phrase or two, some include photography with happy-looking people around the car. Pricing deals wherever possible. They’re trying really hard to relate to you, and then convince you that their product is the best for you. Which is fine, and I’m sure it does the job.

In contrast though, here is Tesla’s landing page:

  • No fluffy marketing language.
  • No special deals here.
  • Clear and simple calls to action.
  • Minimalist and clean aesthetics.

All that Tesla needs to do is showcase their well-designed product with useful ancillary information and logical next step gateways. What this communicates subconsciously to their potential customer is that they are confident in their own product, no need to blast you with all the distracting sales pitches, bells, and flutes. It’s a wonderful example of aiming to keep the users’ cognitive load light.

But if a user does need some more convincing, they’re able to view more vehicle details using the links in the main navigation.

To make this ‘more info’ discovery a little less detached, I do think that an outlined tertiary button for More details on the showcased vehicle could be placed next to the primary Customer order or secondary Existing inventory button.

Now let’s talk about the sales strategy that Tesla uses, which is quite a few miles ahead of the competition.

Online sales are muy importante.

Reducing their reliance on dealerships is a major advantage compared to most of the competition. You can select your chosen model, configure it a bit if you wish, and then head straight into your checkout within 5 clicks/taps. Try doing this with basically any other brand, and you might end up rather choosing a Tesla out of pure frustration.

Dealerships often hold manufacturers back with legalities, contractual and sales agreements, expectations of fair treatment compared to other dealers, and so on— mostly valid mind you. But this is only a problem if you’ve been dealing with dealerships for decades and now have to compete with the cool tweeting electric hippy. The advantage of not dealing with this element is massive; Tesla can streamline and define its online sales journey without being tied to the constraints of third-party interests.

Who vs. What.

Offhand, who is synonymous with Tesla? Goes without saying.

Who is synonymous with Toyota? How about Audi(?), Mazda(?), Mini (Mr. Bean comes to my mind), Fiat (?), I could go on. The point is that Tesla has a wildly popular personality associated with it in the form of Elon Musk. What’s more, is that he interacts with his audience, puts ideas out to the world, and gathers feedback — which is a key aspect of UX research and design.

While doing this, his competitors take notes and assume that they can apply similar findings to their strategies. But that doesn’t work for the most part, because when you think of Tesla you have an actual human face to associate the brand with. To people, through evolutionary processes, a face is such a powerful tool and symbol representing measures of trust and relatability.

The obvious downside and risk to this representation are that if Elon screws up big time, it will affect his associated brands.

We’ve seen something like this happen before (on a smaller and milder scale) when he toked the green mamba on the Joe Rogan Podcast. But we’ve come to know Elon as quirky, edgy, and kind of cool, so he can get away with most of this sort of stuff fairly easily. And as a side effect of this, Tesla also becomes associated with the rebellious and cool element.

There’s a similar personality experience that we’ve had with a brand before, which also worked wonders for its company…

Steve Jobs > Tim Apple

So a part of the edge that Tesla is experiencing over its competitors is down to direct implementations of UX practices in digital interfaces, and some of it is down to brilliant human interface interaction, association, and psychology.

Ultimately, if Tesla’s competitors are going to try to actually compete, they may just need to think different.

Experience Design Consultant