Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik says: "I have a post up that I though BB people may be interested in, about if it makes sense to standardize UI for cars -- most of our car-folk readers are against it, but I think a more general audience might feel differently."
1. Common Controls
Really, we're just about at a standard for these, but not quite. It's being so close but not quite there that makes this category so annoying. Since I drive a good number of different cars as part of my work, I encounter many, many different dashboard and control layouts. It's not really a big deal to adapt to a new car's controls, but it's not entirely seamless, either.
For example, I'll sometimes drive off in an unfamiliar car, and a minute or so into my trip realize I need to defrost/defog the rear window. So I can, you know, see. This particular act is almost always confounding — the rear window defogger/defroster is by far the most randomly placed control in all of motordom. Sometimes it's snuggled up with the HVAC controls, all indistinguishable from the windshield defogger, with its magic rising snakes icon. Sometimes it's over on the left, near where the mirror controls sometimes are, sometimes it's stuck on the center console, and I've even owned a car where it was an unmarked switch under the dash. Nobody has any idea where to put the damn thing. From what I can tell, where they end up placing it seems to be dictated by wherever the guy who realized they forgot it slapped it on.
This isn't the end of the world, but it's a pain. And, potentially dangerous, since it directly affects the driver's ability to see around themselves. It's also unnecessary — this is a feature that has been on cars since the late '60s. You'd think 50 years or so would be plenty of time to have everyone agree where to stick it.
And that's just one control; aside from locked-down standards (pedals, indicator switch, wheel, manual shift pattern basics) almost everything else can vary wildly. Some variants are company-wide (Japanese firms tend to prefer light controls on a stalk-end, Germans seem to prefer dash controls) while some (mirror controls, windows, locks, etc.) vary wildly from car-to-car.
The question is, why doesn't everyone agree to where the basic controls (which should include basic radio and HVAC controls) should be? It's not like all these companies are like Citröen in the '60s, trying out innovative and new instrument panel designs— it's almost always the same basic methods, with just the locations frustratingly mixed around. Does anyone like power window controls in between the seats?
I don't want to stifle innovation, and I certainly don't want a bunch of boring dashboards that look the same. There's still plenty that can be done to give a car character even if the A/C controls, the wipers, the seat adjustment controls are all in essentially the same place. Distinctive dashes like the Mini's dinner-plate sized gauge cluster are still fine, as long as anyone can hop in the car and know where to find almost everything without hunting around.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.