Automotive UI design needs to chill out
The design of automotive user experiences should not only aim to delight drivers and passengers, it should also focus on keeping them safe. Recent years have shown a significant push to incorporate touchscreens as the main point of interaction in high end cars. This is likely due to manufacturers responding to declining sales and declining interest in car ownership coupled with the pervasive usage of smartphones and gadgets.
Maybe it’s due to marketers trying to entice younger market segments towards car ownership. Maybe it’s an attempt to indicate innovation. Regardless of the purpose and goals of going down this road (I couldn’t resist), it’s important that it’s implementation is done with a great deal of careful consideration. Until more robust automation features are available to correct driver mistakes, discretion should be used when adding more shiny/blinky.
Lots of Screens
The increasing number of illuminated screens in a vehicle adds potential distractions to drivers who need to focus their attention on the primary task of driving. Persistent stressful situations are mentally fatiguing and result in diminished focus. This state of inability to focus during directed attention has similar symptoms to ADHD.
Adding touch interaction along with the number of screens compound the distractor in the vehicle which may pose problems for drivers.
CRT touch panel controls and their sequential operation, as investigated in
this study, do not seem to provide adequate driver safety and performance.
In their present form, CRT touch panels appear not to be as safe as knobs, push buttons and levers that are currently being used.
The images on the left are a classic experiments in preattentive processing and visual search. These experiments show the differences between
feature processing and conjunctive processing. Feature processing relies on contrast discrimination and is done preattentively. The red T is easier to pick out in the image on the top-left rather than the image on the top-right because of the differentiation of color between the target and the distractors. The red T is hard to discriminate from other letter preattentively due to the extraneous ‘noise’ or distractors from the other red letters. Additionally, when the target and the distractors differences are less extreme — like the B in the bottom two images, targets can be hard to discriminate as demonstrated in the lower two graphics.
How did we get here?
Given that added screens and new technology in cars is a departure from the ways that car instrumentation has more broadly been handled for decades, new movement towards graphic interfaces poses problems with learning and effective use of the systems.
The human mind organizes knowledge into schemas which consist of interconnected bits of knowledge about a system or event. These schemas are organized into scripts (for knowledge of process) or mental models (for knowledge about equipment or systems)
(Wickens, et al., 2004; Ho, 2000).
To depart from the ways in which people understand how a system is operated can be problematic.
- Distracting events include “latency”. Texting while stopped at a traffic light can negatively affect full driving engagement once the light turns green for an average of 27 seconds after you’ve stopped texting.
- Drivers spend more than half their time focused on things other than driving.
- Distraction contributes to more than 5,000 traffic fatalities each year.
The introduction of new interfaces, shifts the problem of driver distraction from the cell phone to the car itself. When attention shifts focus from the road to a screen, the driver’s cognitive load is very high as they struggle to balance attention between the two.
Clifford Nass on multitaskers
NASS: That’s right. No, they actually think they’re more productive. They actually think they tend to — and most notably, they think they can shut it off, and that’s been the most striking aspect of this research.
We — the people we talk with continually said, look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser-focused. And unfortunately, they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. They just can’t keep on task.
FLATOW: So they — all because they have been multitasking. They’ve lost that ability to focus on one thing.
NASS: That’s precisely right. Our brains have to be retrained to multitask and our brains, if we do it all the time — brains are remarkably plastic, remarkably adaptable. We train our brains to a new way of thinking. And then when we try to revert our brains back, our brains are plastic but they’re not elastic. They don’t just snap back into shape.
HUDs in Practice
Automotive heads up display have the potential to cause more harm than good. Projecting information onto the windshield potentially masks safety-critical areas of the driver’s view. Individual differences (cognitive, as well as oculomotor) between drivers are also an issue that complicates the implementation of HUDs in cars. Accommodation errors due to focusing can quickly lead to fatigue.
So, as a Auto UI designer, what should I do?
Leverage tech to minimize distraction
The car should act as a media filter for the driver and passengers. Enabling context aware distractor buffers that delay or filter notifications, incoming calls, texts, friend requests, etc. until an appropriate time (the car comes to a stop and is in park) for the driver to deal with them. Eye tracking can be used to gauge the state of the driver and sensors on the car can be used to gauge the driving situation. If the driver is driving in a way that requires full focus, the car should mute all distractors (hold notifications, lower the volume, dim non essential screens) until the situation resolves.
Have a purposeful focus on driver cognition
Designing the interfaces to stay out of the driver’s way will create a more usable and pleasurable driving experience. Sensors that automatically adjust interior climates to custom preset would free the driver from having to fiddle with knobs or screens. In-car screens should actively adjust their viewports to show features at appropriate times, then disappear into the dash when cognition needs to be it’s highest.