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Why The Car Industry Needs To Rethink The Dashboard User Interface Design

DIL

Member
Sep 13, 2013
811
321
Danville, CA
Decent article from TechCrunch except the author fails to mention that Tesla has solved this
"Every car — regardless of category or price — had the same mess of dials, buttons, lights and screens surrounding the driver. While there were unique and compelling exterior designs, dashboards were all similarly bad."

http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/08/why-the-car-industry-needs-to-rethink-the-dashboard-user-interface-design/
 

David99

Active Member
Jan 31, 2014
4,850
7,024
Brea, Orange County
I disagree with many of the points made. While they sound logical when written, they don't work in every day driving.

Having a touch screen instead of physical buttons and dials sounds great at first and looks awesome, but when it comes to usability while driving a car, it actually isn't so good. A physical button is always in the same spot. Your muscle memory will let you reach and operate the button without looking, without thinking, without going through different pages or menus. That's exactly what you want in a car. Keep the eyes on the road, not navigate through a touchscreen UI.
Touch screen wins because that's what we consider cool and modern today, but it doesn't mean it actually is better in a car.

Same with customized information and displays changing depending on conditions. Knowing where something is is absolute key to feeling in control. If information and controls appear and disappear, we feel out of control and stressed. Having a car decide what you can see and what you can do makes you feel out of control and treated like a child.

Here is where Apple is absolutely right. They allow very little customization in terms of UI. It makes you feel familiar and in control and at ease.

Simple example: fuel gauge. It could be totally hidden for the first 3/4. It is of absolutely no concern as long as you have plenty of range. The article suggest all info should be hidden until it becomes relevant. Here is why that theory is wrong. Seeing the information right in front of me gives me security. I see the fuel gauge go down slowly as I drive. I see it's going down according to the miles driven. It tells me that everything is fine and goes as it is supposed to go. Seeing information reassures me that all is good, that things are on track. It gives me an idea how far roughly I can go and let's me decide when I think would be a good idea to stop and charge/fill up. Often this is not a decision on pure need, but what feel comfortable and good to me at the time. I could make a completely different decision in the same conditions on a different day depending on my mood or needs.

Some information has no relevance to a certain situation. There is no good or bad moment to look at it. We still feel it's good to have it visible all the time. Time and date good examples. It's on the dashboard all the time. When would it be a good time to see the clock and when isn't it? When is it a good time to see the map overview in the navigation? Most people like to hide it and just show the next turn. Yes often that's all you need, but sometimes I like to see where I am overall on the map, if there is a free section coming up or a surface streets where I might find food before I go on the freeway.

Seeing information is much more than just about how useful it is in a certain moment or not.
 

bmah

Moderator, Model S/X, California Forums
Mar 17, 2015
3,945
7,109
Lafayette, CA, USA
Having a touch screen instead of physical buttons and dials sounds great at first and looks awesome, but when it comes to usability while driving a car, it actually isn't so good. A physical button is always in the same spot. Your muscle memory will let you reach and operate the button without looking, without thinking, without going through different pages or menus. That's exactly what you want in a car. Keep the eyes on the road, not navigate through a touchscreen UI.
Touch screen wins because that's what we consider cool and modern today, but it doesn't mean it actually is better in a car.

Another nice thing about many if not all physical buttons, levers, etc. is that you can touch them without activating them. So even if your muscle memory isn't perfect, you have something for your fingers to touch and hold onto as you spider-walk your way to the correct control. Can't do that with touch screens...you need to be perfect on the first try. And in the Tesla, er, cockpit, your arm might be extended pretty far for a large area of the touch screen. At least some of the more often-used controls, like climate, are on the edge of the screen so you can rest your fingers on the bezel without actually activating anything.
 

travwill

Active Member
May 1, 2015
1,428
610
Marble Falls, TX

techmaven

Active Member
Feb 27, 2013
3,618
9,711
I disagree with many of the points made. While they sound logical when written, they don't work in every day driving.

Having a touch screen instead of physical buttons and dials sounds great at first and looks awesome, but when it comes to usability while driving a car, it actually isn't so good. A physical button is always in the same spot. Your muscle memory will let you reach and operate the button without looking, without thinking, without going through different pages or menus. That's exactly what you want in a car. Keep the eyes on the road, not navigate through a touchscreen UI.
Touch screen wins because that's what we consider cool and modern today, but it doesn't mean it actually is better in a car.

I disagree. Look at this Porsche cockpit:

2015-porsche-macan-turbo-interior.jpg


That's too many buttons. That's overload and there is no way you get muscle memory for all those buttons. Tesla has a slew of physical controls for commonly used functions where muscle memory works. But beyond that? The buttons are terrible.
 

ERP

Ludicrous Member
Apr 17, 2015
112
36
Colorado Springs
Simple example: fuel gauge. It could be totally hidden for the first 3/4.

Saab had this system for many years with their Night Panel button. It was designed to reduce interior light at night, all gauges would turn off and go dark unless the information was need. The speedometer was the only gauge that would always stay on. If the rpms approached redline the tach would light up. If the coolant gauge got too high or the fuel too low, they would light up. It was a nice system.

9EDCF46D-72E3-41B9-81CD-747652B54444_zpszmorzcg6.jpg
 

Ingineer

Electrical Engineer
Aug 8, 2012
1,507
3,699
I disagree. Look at this Porsche cockpit:

<snip>

That's too many buttons. That's overload and there is no way you get muscle memory for all those buttons. Tesla has a slew of physical controls for commonly used functions where muscle memory works. But beyond that? The buttons are terrible.
Wow, that definitely is button overload! The cool thing about a touchscreen is you can put the little-used buttons and settings in a pop-up menu. I think Tesla went overboard and should have a few minimal buttons, but overall I find that the only thing I often touch is the climate settings. I think if they added a few extra dedicated buttons to the wheel, it would solve it for me. Toyota did a decent job on the 2nd gen Prius:
?priusbluecontrols.jpg


They have dedicated climate temp, dedicated audio volume, as well as things like phone answer/hangup. It's nice to not have to look down to take action. Tesla is close, but since the roller wheels can be reassigned, often you have to go through the menus to get the function you want. While you don't have to take your hanbds off the wheel, you have to take your eyes off the road which is arguably worse.
 

David99

Active Member
Jan 31, 2014
4,850
7,024
Brea, Orange County
Designing a UI is an interesting thing. We all have our own preference, so there will never be a consent. Furthermore we sometimes prefer a solution that we like better because it's cool over something that would actually work better. Many successful products are not the best, but people want them the most.

A great example was when I worked at a company where we had a team developing software tools for our work. In meetings we all agreed that speed, fast interaction was highest priority. Looks was much lower in the list. Later, when people went back to work on the project, almost everyone spent most of their time making it look good sacrificing speed.
 

Cyclone

Cyclonic Member ((.oO))
Jan 12, 2015
5,058
1,143
Charlotte, NC
My biggest two items for physical controls is audio system (volume and skip) as well as HVAC temp. The audio system is always available from the steering wheel scroll controls and the HVAC can be an option on the steering wheel (which I actually don't have set. I'm have it set to screen brightness). I like this setup. It's still annoying changing stations with Slacker (Pandora works much better for variety IMO), but otherwise I don't have a problem once I got used to using the steering wheel controls and a default HVAC configuration (basically all auto except recirculate only and 68 degrees, then switch to full auto when raining).
 

bmah

Moderator, Model S/X, California Forums
Mar 17, 2015
3,945
7,109
Lafayette, CA, USA
Toyota did a decent job on the 2nd gen Prius:
They have dedicated climate temp, dedicated audio volume, as well as things like phone answer/hangup. It's nice to not have to look down to take action. Tesla is close, but since the roller wheels can be reassigned, often you have to go through the menus to get the function you want. While you don't have to take your hands off the wheel, you have to take your eyes off the road which is arguably worse.

The second-generation Prius was actually the frame of reference for my earlier post...drove one of those for 10 years before getting my Model S. In some ways I'm finding the Tesla user interface harder to use, particularly for functions that I am used to finding on the steering wheel (good examples are opening/closing climate control vents or switching between audio sources). (To be fair, there are also cases where I like the Tesla UI better, generally higher-level functions like typing in a navigation destination.)
 

Cyclone

Cyclonic Member ((.oO))
Jan 12, 2015
5,058
1,143
Charlotte, NC
Oh yeah, opening/closing cents. I MUCH prefer my 4Runners dial beneath/between each vent that let you open and close the individually and to the degree of your liking. I would love that on the S.
 

CHG-ON

Still in love after all these miles
Jun 24, 2014
3,079
636
Santa Cruz Mountains, USA
AKKK! Comparing a Prius to a Tesla is a painful read for me. But be that as it may, I agree.

The Tesla interface forces me to take my eyes off the road for everything except temp control, because I figured out to anchor my hand on the bottom bezel and hit the up/down temp pretty much always without looking. I completely agree on the audio. It is extremely hard to manipulate. If they would just put arrows on the ends of the sliders so I could tap up and down, left and right, etc, it would make it so much easier and safer. I am a big "keep my eyes on the road" kind of guy and hate having to look down. At least TACC helps by taking over the acceleration and braking and works quite well.

It's very cool in concept. But in practice, it is not very easy to use.
 

Ingineer

Electrical Engineer
Aug 8, 2012
1,507
3,699
what the display screen needs is some haptic feedback so the screen vibrates or something when you touch the area represented as a button

Yeah, this surprised me. They could at least make a "thock" noise through the front center speaker and that would be all in software.
 

e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,289
3,115
San Francisco, CA
I disagree with many of the points made. While they sound logical when written, they don't work in every day driving.

Having a touch screen instead of physical buttons and dials sounds great at first and looks awesome, but when it comes to usability while driving a car, it actually isn't so good. A physical button is always in the same spot. Your muscle memory will let you reach and operate the button without looking, without thinking, without going through different pages or menus. That's exactly what you want in a car. Keep the eyes on the road, not navigate through a touchscreen UI.
Touch screen wins because that's what we consider cool and modern today, but it doesn't mean it actually is better in a car.

Same with customized information and displays changing depending on conditions. Knowing where something is is absolute key to feeling in control. If information and controls appear and disappear, we feel out of control and stressed. Having a car decide what you can see and what you can do makes you feel out of control and treated like a child.

Here is where Apple is absolutely right. They allow very little customization in terms of UI. It makes you feel familiar and in control and at ease.

Simple example: fuel gauge. It could be totally hidden for the first 3/4. It is of absolutely no concern as long as you have plenty of range. The article suggest all info should be hidden until it becomes relevant. Here is why that theory is wrong. Seeing the information right in front of me gives me security. I see the fuel gauge go down slowly as I drive. I see it's going down according to the miles driven. It tells me that everything is fine and goes as it is supposed to go. Seeing information reassures me that all is good, that things are on track. It gives me an idea how far roughly I can go and let's me decide when I think would be a good idea to stop and charge/fill up. Often this is not a decision on pure need, but what feel comfortable and good to me at the time. I could make a completely different decision in the same conditions on a different day depending on my mood or needs.

Some information has no relevance to a certain situation. There is no good or bad moment to look at it. We still feel it's good to have it visible all the time. Time and date good examples. It's on the dashboard all the time. When would it be a good time to see the clock and when isn't it? When is it a good time to see the map overview in the navigation? Most people like to hide it and just show the next turn. Yes often that's all you need, but sometimes I like to see where I am overall on the map, if there is a free section coming up or a surface streets where I might find food before I go on the freeway.

Seeing information is much more than just about how useful it is in a certain moment or not.

This.

This is my one pet peeve about my brand new Tesla: lack of physical buttons. I'm sorry, but the configurable button on the steering wheel does not count. It almost solves the problem for one feature at a time, if you have scrolled through the menu and set it up for the right thing you might want to do down the road. Messing with the menu while driving is not something I enjoy. And this is not a "get off my lawn" type of thing. No; physical buttons in a car are not like typewriters and analog TV antennas and newspapers. They are a safety feature.

It should be: Want, reach, click, obtain. Without taking your eyes off the road.

Case in point: the pano roof and turning A/C on or off. At the same time. Which is a likely scenario.
 

Cyclone

Cyclonic Member ((.oO))
Jan 12, 2015
5,058
1,143
Charlotte, NC
Case in point: the pano roof and turning A/C on or off. At the same time. Which is a likely scenario.

One thing I did like about my VW Eos is it had 3 "modes" that it kept memory of settings separately -- top up, top down, defrost on. With each, it would remember different HVAC and audio volume settings. Something like that could easily be programmed into the Model S via software so that pano open vs. pano closed are different sets of memory settings.
 

RDoc

S85D
Aug 24, 2012
2,736
1,583
Boston North Shore
I'm in total agreement with the criticisms of the Tesla touchscreen UI. IMHO it borders on dangerous because simple things like changing adjusting the climate control, turning on the lights during the daytime and changing the media require a major shift in attention off the road.

IMHO Tesla should open up the UI to outside coders so people could try out different ideas. To prevent hacking, I'd suggest that the entire UI be based on the Chrome browser with very limited APIs into the car's functionality. Before any code could be distributed beyond personal use it would have to be vetted by Tesla. A good first step would be a web/browser based simulator so people could put up their ideas for others to comment on.
 

GlmnAlyAirCar

Active Member
Mar 19, 2015
1,446
1,205
Sanatoga PA
I disagree with many of the points made. While they sound logical when written, they don't work in every day driving.

Having a touch screen instead of physical buttons and dials sounds great at first and looks awesome, but when it comes to usability while driving a car, it actually isn't so good. A physical button is always in the same spot. Your muscle memory will let you reach and operate the button without looking, without thinking, without going through different pages or menus. That's exactly what you want in a car. Keep the eyes on the road, not navigate through a touchscreen UI.
Touch screen wins because that's what we consider cool and modern today, but it doesn't mean it actually is better in a car.

Same with customized information and displays changing depending on conditions. Knowing where something is is absolute key to feeling in control. If information and controls appear and disappear, we feel out of control and stressed. Having a car decide what you can see and what you can do makes you feel out of control and treated like a child.

Here is where Apple is absolutely right. They allow very little customization in terms of UI. It makes you feel familiar and in control and at ease.

Simple example: fuel gauge. It could be totally hidden for the first 3/4. It is of absolutely no concern as long as you have plenty of range. The article suggest all info should be hidden until it becomes relevant. Here is why that theory is wrong. Seeing the information right in front of me gives me security. I see the fuel gauge go down slowly as I drive. I see it's going down according to the miles driven. It tells me that everything is fine and goes as it is supposed to go. Seeing information reassures me that all is good, that things are on track. It gives me an idea how far roughly I can go and let's me decide when I think would be a good idea to stop and charge/fill up. Often this is not a decision on pure need, but what feel comfortable and good to me at the time. I could make a completely different decision in the same conditions on a different day depending on my mood or needs.

Some information has no relevance to a certain situation. There is no good or bad moment to look at it. We still feel it's good to have it visible all the time. Time and date good examples. It's on the dashboard all the time. When would it be a good time to see the clock and when isn't it? When is it a good time to see the map overview in the navigation? Most people like to hide it and just show the next turn. Yes often that's all you need, but sometimes I like to see where I am overall on the map, if there is a free section coming up or a surface streets where I might find food before I go on the freeway.

Seeing information is much more than just about how useful it is in a certain moment or not.

+1 As UI designer of shipboard helm console displays
 

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