Getting information off your car’s HMI screens

Maximalism is often defined as the idea that “more is more” or from a more light hearted perspective, quoting architect Robert Venturi “less is a bore.” The opposite, minimalism, can be defined as the act of intentionally living with only the things you need - removing the distraction of excess to focus on what matters most. Minimalism is also often associated with freedom, allowing you to unburden yourself, freeing yourself from material connections to a place or time. The act of throwing away possessions is used to great effect in films to capture the act of moving on, the start of a new journey.

For us, minimalism has become a guiding principle for UX design, providing the user only with the information that they need, in the right place, at the right time, and in the most appropriate form.

Today's digital screens have transformed what is possible in HMI. This, combined with software created in accessible games engines including Unreal and Unity, has empowered us as designers. In the past, it was often the case that the software and hardware infrastructure required to take our ideas through to production didn’t exist. But now, through the incorporation of traditional and biometric sensor inputs, combined with real-time 3D effects based on live events, the possibilities are seemingly limitless.

Seemingly anything our imaginations can conceive is technically possible, which means that getting it right has become more and more critical to the user experience. There is no excuse for sub-optimal solutions. Giving users the information they want at the right times through digital screens is a real design challenge. To avoid excessive complexity and information overload, hiding the unnecessary data has been the standard visual solution, using layering of deep menu structures to give the user more and more information on request, typically by touch control, voice activation or hand gestures. This has been the maximalist approach, providing the user with more information, more options and more control.

We have been exploring the use of eye-tracking and other technologies to establish best practices for hands free control of digital interfaces. The usability benefits this offers are possible because of better and more accessible technology, but is the digital screen actually the right place for all this information? Why are we so obsessed with data and not the experience? Watching a speedometer go rapidly from 0-60mph can be done playing a racing game from your sofa, but driving and feeling the vibration of the world passing by at increasing speed is far more fun. Can we adopt a multi sensorial approach that combines physical and digital interfaces to deliver this same engagement and feel for the situation in a more minimalist solution?

Giving users the information they want at the right times through digital screens is a real design challenge.

Copyright: RKTKN, Unsplash

There is a legal requirement to ensure that essential information is conveyed for safety reasons. But what if staying within the regulations is also distracting us from the real task of driving? Should there be a sensorial approach as well as the informational graphic design? It may be the case that information doesn't need to be presented through displays or dials at all. Old school combustion engines didn't blow up just because the driver didn’t have a rev counter to refer to. They knew when they were getting close to the limit by the sound and vibration the engine made. The sensorial experience was a fundamental part of the driving experience.

In the modern age of electric vehicles, many of these very visceral clues could be lost. In a number of real world applications we are exploring ways to replace these traditional tells with alternative sensorial cues that will allow us to reduce the depth and complexity of the information we need to display on the vehicle’s HMI screens. So as you drive faster, could the interior change to give you the feeling of speed? Does the interior respond to the way you are driving and the environment your vehicle is passing through?

DCA has been working with Bentley as their UX partner, using games engines and an innovative combination of digital and physical HMI interfaces, to bring back sensorial joy to the driving experience. The goal is that the experiences we are creating in development bucks using this approach can be embedded directly into production vehicles.

The sensorial experience is a fundamental part of the driving experience.

Getting information off your car’s HMI screens

Published on: 20th December 2021