Posted on: 21 April 2016
Has the car industry gone too far with premium car features?
I was recently visiting with my parents and had the luxury of being driven around by them in their ‘relatively’ new car. I say ‘relatively’ because they’ve had this car for over a year. It’s definitely still considered new to them; mostly because they haven’t quite figured out how to use it comfortably.
What do I mean by comfortably? Well there are things that happen in the car without them fully understanding how or why it is happening which makes for some pretty comedic moments for all in the car; driver and passengers alike. Unfortunately, these situations can also lead to unsafe scenarios.
The following questions and comments came up in my most recent car ride with my parents
Why is my window open? I don’t know how I managed to do that.
Why is the side view mirror pointed at the ground?
Why can’t I open the trunk of the car?
All of these questions in single car trip… yikes! I’m not going to go over the solutions to these questions but I can assure you we did manage to sort everything out together. This experience got me thinking about whether ‘automatic’ or ‘smart’ car features really make our day-to-day driving experience better.
As automotive technology becomes more and more advanced, there has been a significant emphasis placed on new safety and comfort features. After these recent experiences in my parent’s new car, I realized that the car designers likely do not consider all potential scenarios/use cases.
I’ll use the side view mirror tilt as an example. Many car manufacturers have introduced this feature that automatically tilts the side view mirrors down when the car is in reverse to make the curb/street easier to see. This is an incredibly useful tool when reversing into a parking space along a curb or parallel parking. However, if you’re used to parking in a garage or in your driveway, you don’t really need this feature to support you in your reversing task.
Although this feature doesn’t exactly cause a lot of harm when not in use, it can cause some confusion for users who are unfamiliar with it. Also, in typical automotive new feature design, it isn’t made very clear on how to turn this feature on or off. I encourage you to do a quick google search on ‘side view mirror tilt in reverse’, you’ll see several forums with user questions asking how to turn this feature on or off.
This example highlights the importance of one key aspect of user research and that’s understanding common usage scenarios when designing any system. Also, it’s important to not only understand why users are likely to do something but also how they are likely to carry out the task (i.e. task analysis).
If we take the time to understand usage scenarios before we begin designing, we can avoid situations where users are confused or are forced to use their trusty friend, Google, or worse – the car manual, to find answers to their questions.
With the future of cars heading towards self-driving features, I hope that automotive designers keep their users in mind when designing new features and take into consideration common scenarios where drivers may wish to override the system.