I’m fascinated by in-car UX. If you’re a UX designer, it must be one of the most interesting areas to work.
As software becomes an increasingly important component of cars, it’s obvious that the quality of its design will become a competitive advantage. But software design is not a core competence of traditional auto-makers, which makes it an intriguing space to watch.
I’ve always thought that cars themselves are great examples of simple, efficient design. The layout of the key controls – steering wheel, gear stick, pedals, indicators, lights and so on – are just where you need them to be. You can control this complex product without ever taking your eyes off the road. Presumably this outcome was largely driven (pardon the pun) by safety concerns.
Outside of these critical controls, car design doesn’t always stack up. Car stereos, in particular, seem to have been designed without any consideration that drivers might have more important things on their mind than deciphering fiddly interfaces.
Many auto-makers have turned to tech companies to help them with their in-car entertainment systems. Given its ubiquity, it’s probably not surprising that some of them turned to Microsoft first. But given that company’s track-record in design, it’s also not surprising that the outcomes weren’t great.
Google, Apple and Blackberry are all developing similar systems – although none of them are yet in widespread use. On top of that, Google is building its own car and Apple is rumoured to be doing something similar.
Of course, the most interesting company in this space is Tesla. As a Silicon Valley-based industry outsider, Tesla has its roots in software as much as it does in auto-making. So it should be better placed to solve the in-car UX problem than its traditional rivals.
Indeed, it likes to emphasise how seriously it takes UX. And while the features in this videoappear impressive at first glance, it’s hard to judge without first-hand experience (although I wonder why the flat design trend seems to have completely passed them by).
This is an emergent field, and one I’ll be watching closely. It will certainly be a major consideration when it comes to upgrading the family auto in the next couple of years.
If you’d like to know more about this topic, the links below offer a great starting point.
Jeff Teehan of (the now departed) Teehan + Lax laments what he sees as the deplorable state of in-car UX in this entertaining blog post.
This article, by the team at Raurief, gives an overview of the entire in-car UX challenge.
Finally, an interesting piece from Bloomberg about the number of Apple employees being poached by Tesla, giving them an “almost unfair advantage” over the likes of Ford and GM when it comes to design.