During summer vacation I road in two new vehicles; a Jeep and a Prius. After those experiences I’ll probably hang onto my ‘96 Mercury for a while longer. In one vehicle, I counted over 30 controls and in the other, displays on the control panel provide more information than a driver needs–at least in my opinion. Neither vehicle had a GPS navigation display or other options that would further clutter both a dashboard and a driver’s mind. But they did have a satellite-radio receiver. Because many vehicle manufacturers and research groups want to move us to “intelligent” vehicles, likely with even more controls, displays and flashing lights, I wonder how much more information a driver can handle.
In the Prius, for example, the charge/discharge (I think) display gave no indication of the information it presented. A bar graph moved back and forth, depending on something, but that “something” wasn’t clear from looking at the display. Should I worry if the moving bar gets to one end or the other on the display?
For images of a Prius dashboard, visit: www.gearlog.com/2009/03/car_review_2010_toyota_prius_t.php.
Likewise, “universal” graphics for lights, windshield washers, and other types of controls seem to serve more to confuse than inform. While driving the Jeep, it took time to discover how to control the rear-window wiper and washer fluid. Thankfully, I didn’t have to drive the Prius.
People worry about drivers distracted by text messaging, but I wonder how many drivers baffled or distracted by the controls and displays and cause accidents. I’m sure car and truck manufacturers have engineers who worry about human factors information overload, but the problem seems to get worse every year.
Also, designers of TVs, DVRs, DVD players, video cameras, PCs, cell phones, appliances share some blame. Their electronic products also continue to include features and corresponding controls and displays, but not always with users in mind.
What can product designers do? Do you know of well-designed products that make controls and displays easy to understand? What about products that don’t? And, can you share sources of information about product design and human factors? Comments welcomed. –Jon Titus