If it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same, are today’s youngest Millennials anything like their forebears? Maybe, when it comes to the excitement of getting behind the wheel for the first time. For every generation since their mass-production began, a car means freedom. Suddenly, anything seems possible, which doesn’t necessarily put parents at ease.

Studies show that 16-year-olds have more car accidents than any other drivers. And more than half of all teen drivers confess to talking on the phone while driving. Can design provide a solution to the problem?

Amin Einakian and Zhenmin Li, MFA students in Integrated Design at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), have come up with an inventive, interactive concept: S.mile. Designed as part of a General Motors-sponsored project at CCS, the S.mile experience signals a win-win-win for car- and freedom-loving Millennials, their parents—who want their kids to put safety first—and the general driving public.

The GM project teamed pairs of interaction design and integrated design students to create an enhanced user experience around the concept of an existing brand—in this case, the Chevrolet Spark, Sonic, and Cruze models. Einakian and Li chose the Cruze for their concept.

According to Matt Fuligni, Design Manager of the User Experience Studio at GM, the teams researched the brands “to come up with cool, innovative ideas using interior infotainment and technology to uncover things that we aren’t thinking about right now.”

For Einakian and Li, that meant creating a car-driving experience that would not only be fun for Millennials but also offer parents peace of mind.

The premise behind S.mile is simple yet effective: once young drivers have a license in-hand, parents can then “build” safety measures into their kids’ Chevy Cruze driving experience. A phone or computer application makes it easy for parents to set controls, such as speed limits and time management.

Say Cathy wants to take her new Cruze for a spin. Her mom has already set up the S.mile application to monitor whether the teen wears her seatbelt, plays the radio too loudly or talks on her cell phone while driving. Mom can also set limits that keep Cathy from driving over the speed limit. In return, Cathy develops safe driving habits that can eventually “win” her more privileges from Mom, such as custom graphics for her new Cruz. After Cathy makes a trip to school or to the movies with friends, Mom can log into the app and check on her daughter’s driving behavior.

Einakian explained the approach he and Li used to develop the S.mile concept. “For Millennials, we wanted to offer them self-expression, so they can customize their car and have a specific car just for themselves. And for the parents, we wanted them to have peace of mind—no stress when their children are driving.”

The Chevrolet project had three distinct phases. In the discovery phase, students conducted a brand study that included Chevy as well as non-automotive brands, a competitive analysis of features and functions that define the user experience, and an assessment of the perceptions, values, and needs of Millennials.

In the ideation phase, each team developed two to three concepts, business rationales for each, and preliminary ideas for prototypes. Finally, teams chose one idea and developed and tested user experience prototypes, including wireframes, screen flows, and animation.

The S.mile app is one of four concepts developed in the GM-sponsored project and is the latest example of what happens when the carmaker and CCS tap into their long and productive relationship. Sponsored projects give CCS MFA students the opportunity to gain real-world design experience under real-world conditions.

Sponsored projects give @CCS_Detroit MFA students the opportunity to gain real-world experience

“They’re evaluation was really thorough,” said Maria Luisa Rossi, MFA Chair of Integrated Design and one of the project’s instructors. “[GM] looked at every single idea from a different point of view. They thought about the quality of the idea, the quality of execution, the depth of ideation. They gave a lot of feedback to the students so they were really part of building this experience.”

Fuligni agreed that guidance from industry pros helped to impose practical criteria on creative ideas to make them more production-ready and to potentially identify talented designers who might one day find themselves working for the carmaker’s User Experience Studio.

The MFA students’ ability to synthesize research and come up with provocative ideas was impressive, he added. “We thought working with the master’s program would create a lot of insights and uncover a lot of things that we, at GM, working on production programs, don’t really have the opportunity to do on a regular basis.

“Plus, we wanted to target future talent. It’s a growing, exciting field and a lot of people that work in that field have come into it from other disciplines. But at CCS, they’re taking classes and being trained in user interaction design and user experience.”