Let's Have a Little Talk About Usability

One of the most interesting things about cars, from a usability point of view, is how easy it is to drive one. Once you’ve learned how to drive one, nearly any other car or truck is easy to learn But take a moment and think about what is actually involved in controlling a 4 ton piece of metal at 60 miles per hour next to other large, fast moving vehicles and you may start feeling overwhelmed.

It really is a tribute to auto manufacturers and their designers that so many different designs could be so easily accessible to drivers with little introduction to the different designs. Considering that the majority of operations within a car require the driver to execute the action without ever looking, automobiles should really be looked at as a pinnacle of design.

However, I’ve recently been seeing an ad on Hulu (which I can’t find anywhere) comparing a car to a tablet. The announcer asks the viewer to compare the number of buttons on their car stereo and on their tablet and implores them to enter the future by getting rid of all that old-school, tactile feedback and switch to something requires eye sight for every operation.

Every time I see this ad, I shake my head and cry a little - on the inside. Controlling a car by touchscreen is one of the stupidest and dangerous ideas I can think of. Now, instead of keeping your eyes on the road and changing the radio station by touch alone, you now need to look at your dashboard to find exactly where your finger, while hoping that the touchscreen was responsive enough to detect your selection.

Look at typing on your tablet as an example. If you’re used to touch typing, tablet typing is painfully slow and only auto-correct will save you. And unless the build in autonomous driving into new cars, there won’t be an equivalent to vehicular auto-correct any time soon.

It’s one thing to take a known, good design and throw it out the window - this could even be considered brave and daring in seeing how new features work with their users - but removing usability and pretending it’s the main selling point in your product really gets under my skin. Learn from existing usability problems with tablets first and try improve your current design instead of going with what would be considered “cool”.

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About Jay Lindquist
Developer and wonderer