UX Ugh

Volume 19, Issue 3; 09 Mar 2016

Sometimes just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should.

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

Douglas Adams

It was once the case that the pedals and levers in your automobile were physical linkages. Depressing the clutch separated the gears, moving the gear shift selected new gears, releasing the clutch engaged the new gears Approximately. I’m no gear head. , etc. Over time, other systems intervened and the linkages became less direct. Today, the affordances in a modern vehicle have no direct linkage to the underlying systems they control. Instead they are actuators for a computer system that does the actual controlling.

While most cars stick with traditional forms: a gear shift on the floor next to the driver or on the steering column, a parking brake that’s either a lever next to the driver or a pedal on the floor, etc., not so my current rental.

Automotive console
Automotive console

That knob on the lower left, inconspicuously different from the other knobs on the console, selects the gear: clockwise from park to low and counter clockwise back again to park. The little paddle thing to the right is the parking brake: push or pull it to engage the brake, push or pull it to disengage (I can’t remember which).

The design is so bad, so counterintuitive, that the first time I backed out of the parking space at the rental car center, I switched from reverse to park and spent several moments trying to work out why pushing the accelerator did nothing but make the engine rev.

Humans are adaptable. It’s not unusable, it’s just an awful set of design choices.