April 3, 2014

Let’s talk user interface … “Deconstructed”

By John Kosinski II

In-vehicle user interface and HMI (Human Machine Interaction) designs have become a white-hot topic for users and designers alike. The deconstructed interface can be broken down into three elements that work together seamlessly:
  • Style
  • Interaction
  • Core Logic Structure

Once the impact of each section on design is clearly understood, the designer can target what works and what doesn't.

The style or graphic user interface (GUI) is responsible for the overall design theme including graphics, fonts, colors, etc. This is the driver’s initial interaction with the vehicle controls and can lead to a positive or negative first impression. The user immediately tries to understand what is being presented and relates that with past experiences – leading to their next input.

The core logic structure or architecture is also involved in this stage by providing screen layouts to the GUI designer.

Analyzing the driver’s reaction to the screens can provide insight about their learning curve as it relates to the vehicle controls. If the user does not encounter issues, then the design intent was properly executed. If the user does not like the GUI or architecture, it can be defined two ways:

1. They do not like the graphics, font readability, or have had little or no prior experience with the controls. This is the most common issue as research has shown that users prefer to use controls with which they are familiar.
2. The design is not intuitive. This leads to strong negative feedback because users need to learn a new system.

The user’s immediate response to the style would be: “it’s too busy”… “the colors are cartoon like”… or “it’s distracting.”

Interaction or User Experience (UX) with the vehicle controls is the second level of learning. UX is tied to the visual connections and the subsequent user action. For many years vehicle interfaces were separate direct-entry controls. Today, vehicle controls have merged into a common interface due to increased connectivity.

Touch screens provide new interactions that may be unfamiliar to the user, but allow interface methods that help them reach their desired result. Increasingly, content is being designed with touch screens in mind.

Rotary control interfaces display functions in a list format – similar to the traditional direct entry method. A rotary interface usually requires more steps to complete a task due to its four-way control: up, down, enter, back. Actions are linear and unlike a touch screen, cannot be skipped using hidden functionality. This approach takes a little more time to execute than a touch screen, but is preferred by some users.

After the user initially interacts with the vehicle controls, their reaction is generally one of the following: “that was neat”… “why did they to it that way?”... or “my phone does it another way.”

Core Logic Structure
The final portion is the core logic structure or architecture of the interface. The architecture manages the overarching structure and flow. This may take the driver weeks to learn, so consistency is critical when developing the interface.

If the user initially enjoyed the interface, over time it may become a repetitive chore. We avoid this by minimizing the number of steps and time it takes to complete any given task.

This is also where an in interface can break down because features could have been added after the initial design stage. Therefore, it is imperative to create a flexible interface from the bottom up using key elements, layouts and interactions. This is essential to retaining longevity in interface development.

At Visteon we’re always watching the latest technology trends and thinking about how to safely integrate them into the vehicle. As this in-vehicle experience evolves, what trends would you like to see?

John Kosinski II is a technical fellow at Visteon responsible for user interface architecture development. During his 22-year career in automotive electronics, he has developed more than 30 unique interface designs from innovation to production programs integrating new technology and applying advanced concepts. He has also worked in audio applications and product requirements roles. In recent years, John has been teaching SAE seminars on in-vehicle interface design (SAE #C1431) to help develop new talent for the automotive industry.