I Love My Car. For Now.

I keep forgetting my goal to write here more often. Oops. It's especially hard when there are so many things in the world to talk about (this of course is what makes design so necessary and incredible, but I've lost track of so many little things I've observed. I really need to start writing this down).

My car is a beautiful Toyota RAV4. I'm very fond of my car, it's sentimental to me because of all the trips I've taken in it with my parents and the little things that remind me of home. But I've found myself guiltily checking out other cars in the past year or so. It's not that I'm particularly a car person, but it's the fact that cars have been evolving much like all sectors of technology. When I saw first saw pictures of the Ford Focus and then recently the Santa Fe, I got the sudden itch to find a Ford dealer.

Touch interfaces in cars. Who knew that would happen a decade ago?

My car is very much not tappable. I have knobs, buttons, and toggles all over to navigate my heating and sound systems - they're eve on the steering wheel so I can adjust the volume and change the radio without taking my eyes off the road. Coming back to my car to fiddle with the cords and buttons of the physical world is strange.

I'm pretty okay with that though. I haven't really experienced touch screens as a driver much, but my mom's car has a pretty rudimentary touch screen. I've tried manipulating it (safely) and the fact is that whether or not your controls are manual or touchscreen, there's a whole realm of interface design left for cars.

Being in healthcare has taught me one fundamental thing: Do everything you can to not kill people. Follow good design, yes, but an okay design that doesn't cause potentially life threatening mistakes is far preferred to a great design that could go south (best case scenario is that we design something excellent that also avoid endangering patients). Car designers have this same problem I think; whether the car has touch capability or not, that primary goal of keeping people out of danger is still there. Looking away to fiddle with a part of the car is still a distraction.

There is voice recognition, yes, but the way that my car's voice navigation is designed is a rudimentary long list of commands that the user has to sort through to get to where they want to go. From an interaction perspective, it should be simple to say "Play on repeat". There is headway being made in that direction with iOS's Siri and the voice recognition capability on Android. I wouldn't be surprised if there was exploration into being able to plug your phone directly into a car system and have it power most (if not all) of the entertainment system. My One X has a car mode, but I currently stick it into a cupholder while I'm driving, so it's a little lost on me. That said, it's a pretty small set of tap targets while driving. I'm better off scrambling for the dials of my car.

People pictured flying cars in the future long ago. Me, I picture cars pretty much as they are today, but with the chance to really innovate in interaction beyond touch. A little strange for someone who works in mobile which is all about touch interaction, but I think it's an amazing challenge. So when I think about that moment far in the future where I'm trading in my RAV4 for some shiny new car, I hope that it's something that doesn't even involve touch - what if I could wave my hand to skip to my other favorite radio station? Could gesture based interaction work as a viable alternative to manual/touch? Pairing it with voice could be interesting. I saw some really amazing prototypes done by some of the designers I've worked with previously, and while testing it would be a little precarious, it opens a new door for designing interfaces in cars.

For now? I'm good with fiddling with 3D dials and buttons if at all I'm messing with my system. Tapping on a screen has probably evolved from what it was when my mother bought her car, but at the end of the day after breaking mobile applications, it's nice to feel the physical feedback of a pushed button. Call it a crazy personal preference.

Ask me about it again when I buy another car.