Viridian Note 00404: Car Ergonomics
- Key concepts
- automobile design, design criticism,
ergonomics, John Phillips, Car and Driver magazine,
Attention Conservation Notice:
- I found this article
to be witty, insightful and delightful, but then again,
I just bought a hybrid electric Honda Civic
with a highly unorthodox instrument panel.
The legendary "curse of oil" crushes Africa's
so-called governments. What comes after "failed
states," eh? Could it be the curse of oil
for a "Failed Globe"?
Wow, here's your chance to live in a home
made of big recycled shipping containers.
"Natural computation." Hey, nice oxymoron.
The Eighth International Conference on Parallel Problem Solving from Nature (PPSN VIII),
18-22 September 2004, Birmingham, UK
Source: Car and Driver magazine, March 02004
MARCH 23, 2004
"Say so long to cockpit ergonomics."
BY JOHN PHILLIPS
"There's a Joseph Conrad-derived scene in Apocalypse Now when Captain Willard says,
'They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were, uh, unsound.'
(((Hey wait a minute == is this a car review in CAR AND DRIVER? This
"Colonel Kurtz asks, 'Are my methods unsound?'
"And Willard replies, 'Uh, I don't see any method at
"Exactly. I see no method in modern cockpit ergonomics.
Remember ergonomics? It's become a lost science, as
denigrated as astrology and apparently less useful. In
part, I blame in-dash navigation systems and so-called
automatic climate controls, which together have done
to ergonomics what Arthur Andersen did to corporate
"Why do so many nav systems take precedence in the
center stack, ousting vital secondary controls to
regions more readily controlled by passengers? I use
the radio and HVAC controls daily, hourly, minute by
minute, yet rely on the GPS to guide me less than twice
per month. (That's a lie. I've never used a GPS.) At
what point did buyers come to equate vehicular value
with electronic complexity? (((At this point, I'm
settling right in and munching taco chips.)))
"I recently drove a Nissan Quest for 13 days and 1000
miles. Many of its secondary controls are located on a
big pie plate that juts up from where the center stack
should be. A swell idea, sure, except there's no room
for the CD player on this pie plate, so it's been
relegated to a shelf below. It's invisible to the
driver. To insert a disc, you just stab and poke the CD
randomly into shadows down around your knees.
(((He's got a gift! No doubt about it.)))
"Or you can pull over, put the vehicle in park,
unfasten your belt, stick your head between the front
seats, and grope for a spell. Even when you do find the
slot, your CD won't be accepted until you locate the
'load' button, which apparently makes a kind of dinner
reservation for music.
(((Maybe one should forget about those dangerous
CDs and go back to chatting on the cellphone
as one drives.)))
"Prominent on the Quest's pie plate are three large
rotary knobs that operate the HVAC system. Below them
are radio and GPS controls. Touch any of these and you
may actually cause something to happen, but you won't
know what until you raise your head and consult a big
LCD screen located behind the pie plate and atop the
dash. It's in a different focal plane.
"To tune the radio you must first take your eyes off
the road, readjust your vision to activate one of 14
different radio buttons, readjust your vision to study
the LCD screen above and behind, then readjust your
vision a third time to focus on the FedEx truck you're
about to T-bone.
(((Move over, Jakob Nielsen, Donald Norman!)))
"What's more, if you're driving at dawn or at dusk or
with your lights on during dreary days == as happened
to me during all four days of the Thanksgiving
weekend == the icons and digits appearing on the LCD
are too dim to read. To determine whether the defroster
was on, I once had to pull over, turn the headlights
off, then cup my hand over a bevy of LCD glyphs, of
which there are 22. (((!))) It's like having to turn
on the TV in your den to find out whether your oven
is cooking at 350 degrees.
"To alter the Quest's driver's-side cockpit temp, you
twist the left-most rotary knob nearly three inches to
port (to subtract a degree) or three inches to
starboard (to add). The temp you've summoned flashes in
little digits on the LCD screen, not even in the same
area code as the rotary control.
((("Area code" problem, huh? Good thing I've got
roaming on that cellphone!)))
"This control, by the way, is spring-loaded to let you
know it resents being twisted. (((This brilliant
rhetorical move is what John Ruskin used to call
"the pathetic fallacy," and lo, it is the very living
soul of Victorian poesy.))) It takes one second for
each new digit to flash up on the LCD. To adjust the
fan speed, you must focus on the center of the rotary
knob, which is split in half, creating two
hemispherical rocker switches. Now it gets really
complicated: Push the topmost lip of the top rocker
to increase fan speed.
(((I know that it's getting "really complicated," but
by now I trust the narrator completely.)))
"Push the lowermost lip of the lower rocker to decrease
fan speed. Misdirect a finger by a fraction and nothing
at all happens. Poke the upper half of the center
rotary control to change where air blows == in your
eyes, up your pants. (((Just relax == we're in the
hands of a master here.))) But everything here responds
so lethargically == and requires such pinpoint finger
accuracy in one plane and detailed observation of a
largely illegible LCD in another == that it's like
operating a toaster with your toes.
(((I hope this John Phillips writes books.)))
"Beneath the trio of sulking Stephen Hawking rotary
knobs (((that's the rapierlike coup de grace))) are
two more panels of pushbuttons == 28 in all, more than
exist letters in our alphabet. (((I stand in awe.)))
One set is ostensibly for the GPS, one for the radio.
Except mixed in with the nav controls are the radio's
seek and tune buttons, making for a kind of year-long
electronic Easter-egg hunt. If I wanted to pay to be
simultaneously astounded, mystified, and duped, I'd get
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
LADIES, GO MARRY HIM
HAVE HIS CHILDREN
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O