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Throwback Thursday: The Evolution of the Dashboard

Throwback Thursday: The Evolution of the Dashboard
Eric Huebner

The dashboard. It’s one of the most important parts of every car and serves not only as an information display, but also as a command center from which the driver can control every aspect of their vehicle, from the cabin temperature to the brightness of their headlights. Like the engine, transmission, and wheels, it’s one of the few things that have remained constant in the automotive sphere since the initial inception of the car over a century ago. In fact, the very name “dashboard” is a direct reference to the initial dashboard on a horse-drawn carriage, which was a long piece of wood or metal that prevented mud from being kicked into the occupant’s face. With such longevity, the dashboard was bound to evolve. But has this evolution always been a positive thing?

Long gone are the days of a simple tachometer and speedometer dominating the driver’s view from inside the car. Beginning with the initial introduction of the radio into cars in the 1930s, dashboards became increasingly cramped as automakers tried to place more and more technology into the cockpit. These days, automakers have dominated headlines with futuristic tech. From the eventual integration of Apple’s Siri technology to heads-up displays and touch-screen interfaces, automakers are trying to pull out all the stops to give themselves an edge over their competitors.

However, this approach can backfire as well. Ford’s MyFord Touch system has been universally panned by critics and has gone down in history as one of the least intuitive and most astoundingly awful technological inclusions in recent automotive history. The system is so reviled that, in July, Ford was hit by a class action lawsuit in the state of California for falsely advertising the system.

This problem has, in large part, been representative of most of the latest touch-screen dashboards. The vast majority of automakers seem to think that touch screens are the way of the future, but none of them have been able to quite get it right. Traditionally, touch-screen dashboards have manifested themselves with skeuomorphic designs, exactly replicating the tactile knobs and switches of their non-digital counterparts. However, this has been largely viewed as a failure due the very lack of those same tactile interfaces that the touch screens try to imitate. The beauty of having a series of knobs and buttons on a dash is that, once you familiarize yourself with the general layout, you won’t need to take your eyes off of the road to operate them. With a touch screen, there’s no tactile feedback to allow drivers to discern whether they’re frantically flashing their high beams or simply turning on the air conditioning.

Designer Matthaeus Krenn has attempted to solve this problem by developing an entirely new interface that completely abandons the traditional dashboard layout and focuses on its optimization for the touch screen. The new design emphasizes multi-touch gestures. For example, swiping up on the screen with two fingers will raise the stereo’s volume, while swiping up with four fingers will turn up the temperature of the climate control system.

 

For the past several years, dashboard “innovations” have served simply as added distractions that took the driver’s attention from the road and refocused it on an incredibly complicated digital display that required full concentration to operate. However, the debut of new interfaces, such as that developed by Matthaeus Krenn, provide reason to believe that dashboards are turning the corner. The return to simplicity and the willingness to finally break with outdated design language should pay dividends in the coming years.

[Sources: Wired, Discovery News, BusinessInsider, Worldwidewords.org, Jalopnik]

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