Recently Mercedes showed the beginning of dynamic car interface design. In some respect cars have always had interface design only it's been more mechanical and dashboard design and less of a dynamic computer based interface. In the next 5 years I expect most high end models to begin to incorporate dynamic interface.
Car Interface design represents one of the biggest challenges in terms of interaction models.
- Hand and foot interactions - gas, break, turn signals and steering wheel
- Real time interactions - Obviously the car is moving everything needs to happen real time
- Multiple system integration- Mechanical systems, Climate control, Entertainment system, Navigation systems, Safety systems and Communication systems.
- Multiple displays, gauges and outputs all competing for visual attention.
- Alerts, notifications and distractions both on the screen and on the road.
Not only is the car a house on wheels but it's also contains more technology and computer power then in the original space shuttle.
The current Mercedes design is certainly a step forward but it's a got a long way to go. The current design is constrained and limited by the dashboard designs of the last 100 years. The advantages of a dynamic screen is that it can be used to display more complete and more detailed information with contextual detail at each level.
- The advantage of a radial gauge is that the mechanics are simpler then a linear control. In terms of displaying this information on a computer screen there's no reason to take up 50% of the screen with something that could be shown as a simple indicator. MPH is important but it's readability could be improved more by using a nice elegant and attractive font then with a traditional dial.
- R, N, D, S, P. Cars have for years used a single letter for key features and functions. It's as if there is a tax on using a whole word. Sure I know that these are Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Sport and Park but in an on screen interface it's ok to use the whole word.
- That said, why are R, N, D & P even on the dash? Shouldn't these be drawn on the shifter? Perhaps these are hidden when the car is being driven?
- Icons with no explanation - Sure I may know that the red guy with a line through him is supposed to be an indication to buckle up but in an on-screen interface you can say it explicitly or even shown a picture indicating the exact buckle that is open.
- Lack of visual design and color - I'm not suggesting that the interface should be splattered with color or over designed but the design of the dashboard should feel like it's an extension of the car. The high end styling of Mercedes should be easily apparent in the visual design, icon design, fonts and visuals of the dashboard. The interior accent colors should be reflected in the accents in the UI. If I own a red car the accents should be tinted red.
A car is a visual extension of status, aesthetic and design over the next few years I expect the auto-makers to jump on this and make car interface designs simpler, friendlier and more customizable. The trend of themes and ring tones that you see for cell phones today will likely spawn a similar after-market for high-end dashboard upgrades. Your ride will be pimped both inside and out.