My venture into software design also sparked an interest in user interface design.

A recent road trip through Europe provided an opportunity to catch up with modern car user interfaces thanks to many car rentals in different countries. Most of the cars I used now had an all digital display, without any physical indicators.

This should provide a great opportunity for automotive engineers: there is no longer a need to reserve space for warning lights and indicators that you only need when things go wrong (engine temperature, brakes, etc., and you can include things like maps for navigation.

Well, they still have something to learn, up to the point where I think a car’s user interface could be competitive advantage similar to the one Apple exploited in computers in the 2000s.

Take navigation for example. The screen is littered with information you don’t need, and items you want are hard to find. It looks like designers still consider a map (used since the Middle Ages by explorers to ponder and plan routes) and a navigation app to be the same.

Navigation apps show maps in great detail. You pass by a city and are offered the full road map with street names of the city inside the ring highway. Furthermore, the app shows the full detail of the next upcoming 15 turns 100km ahead. Instead, what you need is actually different:

  • A huge display of time now, time to go, km to go (scattered in small print across the screen now)

  • A very clean display of the flow of the road you are currently driving on (hair pins), plus an ultra zoom of complicated junctions with bus lanes that come in handy inside the town centres of Italian cities

  • A very clear indication of landmarks on the road: a city, an airport, a river passing, gas stations.

  • Better selection of destinations: it was impossible for me to enter Milan Malpensa airport as a destination more than 100km from Milan.

And then for the graphics itself. Designer try to emulate physical clocks using all kind of shadows and gradients, that actually give away the imperfections of the screen resolution (far worse than you have in your phone). Straight simple graphics will look much better and classier.

Someone will get this right eventually.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

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