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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A study in Europe found that buttons in cars were quicker and safer to use than touchscreens. Touchscreens make life easier for automakers in terms of design and assembly, but the study concludes using buttons for systems like climate control, the stereo and some driving functions is actually safer than a screen controlling everything in your car according to Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare, which has been researching the usability of both buttons and touch screens in 11 different cars currently on the market.

The tests timed how long it took a driver who was familiar with the car controls to perform a list of tasks in each car. These included turning on the seat heater, increasing the cabin temperature, turning on the defroster, adjusting the radio, resetting the trip computer, turning off the screen, and dimming the instruments.

The key here is how long the driver took their eyes of the road and the distance the car traveled while they were distracted. Most of the cars required twice as long, or more, to complete the same tasks as a driver of an older 2005 "analog" car equipped with buttons. And let's not call capacitive touch surfaces "buttons". They are fixed location which is a plus, but good luck hitting the right one without looking. My 2011 Volt has them and I'm not a big fan.

The linked articles have details on the cars tested, but my interest is more about the general subject of button vs. screen and their usability by the driver.

The magazines blames designers wanting a sleek looking cabin and accountants looking at the cost savings of not needing buttons and all that goes with them such as connectors, wires, fasteners, assembly.

What I like are all the commonly used items to have a button or knob, and for them to be distinguishable by shape and size as well as location.

 

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I find it interesting the SpaceX uses buttons for critical features in the Dragon Crew capsules. This leads a lot of credence to the validity of the European research.
 
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Clearly, the answer is...to get something else to perform those tasks...ie: Autonomous Driving. Your preferred settings are downloaded from your phone when you book your trip. Alas, my response is off-the-cuff. As a driver, I have to gauge the road conditions before attempting a settings change. I'll wait a bit until that next car passes by, or the road is straight etc..
One physical button I miss is the air-recirculation, when passing a farmers field that the manure spreader was recently used, or a truck exiting a dusty construction zone.
 

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I don't like the controls on the screen. No haptic feedback. No clues to locations.

My G1 Insight had what I considered to be a perfect-perfect-perfect dash.
Everything was crystal clear. No guessing. All controls in easy reach.
Didn't have to take my eyes off the road. Ever.
Except the hazards... I could never find those things.

My Volt has what I consider to be the worst dash ever.
After a year, I still can't put my hand on any of the controls.
I have to take my eyes off the road no matter what I do. Every time.
And the hazards... I can never find those things.

Plus, I've come within one button push of turning the car off at highway speeds a number of times when pushing On/Off instead of the Drive Mode button. No wonder they moved that stupid thing!

But the volt's still better!

Voice control?
"Open the pod bay door, HAL."
 
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The study should have been called, "well duh." Perhaps someone should tell that to Tesla. They should also mention that it's safer to put a screen in front of the driver in his line of sight so he doesn't have to turn to the middle of the dash to see how fast he's going. It all comes down to ergonomics. People's hands and fingers will move and function the ways they have been.

Tactile buttons are so much easier and safer. All the critical functions should never be on a touch screen. What I also like about GM's instrument panel are redundancy hard buttons and touch screen buttons. If for some reason your button sticks or isn't working, you still have the ability to control the function and vice versa.

Most of us can adjust or manipulate these buttons just by feel alone. If you used these buttons more than twice, they become second nature to you. I'll bet any modern GM vehicle owners know exactly how and where they can turn up or down the volume.

Innovation for innovation sake isn't useful unless it helps the user.
 

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Clearly, the answer is...to get something else to perform those tasks...ie: Autonomous Driving. Your preferred settings are downloaded from your phone when you book your trip. Alas, my response is off-the-cuff. As a driver, I have to gauge the road conditions before attempting a settings change. I'll wait a bit until that next car passes by, or the road is straight etc..
One physical button I miss is the air-recirculation, when passing a farmers field that the manure spreader was recently used, or a truck exiting a dusty construction zone.
Air recirculation button is available on the new Bolt. (As a side note, BMW has this cool feature that turns on recirculation automatically with a particulate sensor)
 

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I don’t mind some buttons.
I far prefer voice controls to either screen or buttons.
Second to that I prefer steering wheel buttons.
I do prefer a well done UI that uses a touch screen for most functions. Especially those that are not typically needed while driving.

Other than voice controls and steering wheel buttons, I probably used the touch screen less than a half dozen times in my former Model 3 (while in motion).

I also remember the large number of poorly labeled buttons in our gen-1 Volt. That was a great example of buttons being worse than a touch screen.
 

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Twist knob for volume, so I can spin it to zero quickly without looking. The mute button on the steering wheel is also an acceptable answer to this task.

Twist knob for at least driver's temperature and fan is nearly a must have. Passenger or rear temp, put those where they can be reached by the people in those zones, and they can be touchscreen.

Physical buttons for front defrost, rear defrost, seat heater, steering wheel heat, and most importantly hazard flashers.

Tactile controls (knob, button, or stalk flip) for headlights, high beams, cruise control, and lane keep assist functions.

I am not in favor of government regs in general, but I would be perfectly fine if NHTSA made the above mandatory and standardized. These are safety critical items to be able to control quickly, without looking. I've been rental cars that took 5 minutes just to find where all those are, which is a problem.

I've been researching ID.4 as a possible next car for a family member, and the capacitive buttons on the steering wheel that can activate cruise control from a very light brushing of the hand is 99% a deal breaker.
 

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I find it interesting the SpaceX uses buttons for critical features in the Dragon Crew capsules. This leads a lot of credence to the validity of the European research.
Buttons are much easier to locate and press when the craft is shaking. They also work when wearing gloves.
 

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Buttons are much easier to locate and press when the craft is shaking. They also work when wearing gloves.
So cars shake on rough roads. Muscle memory helps me find the buttons and I wear gloves in the winter. Buttons are better in cars as well for the exact same reasons.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
So cars shake on rough roads. Muscle memory helps me find the buttons and I wear gloves in the winter. Buttons are better in cars as well for the exact same reasons.
SpaceX uses buttons for important/critical functions. A car is not a spaceship, but can be just as dangerous.
 
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Clearly, the answer is...to get something else to perform those tasks...ie: Autonomous Driving. Your preferred settings are downloaded from your phone when you book your trip. Alas, my response is off-the-cuff. As a driver, I have to gauge the road conditions before attempting a settings change. I'll wait a bit until that next car passes by, or the road is straight etc..
One physical button I miss is the air-recirculation, when passing a farmers field that the manure spreader was recently used, or a truck exiting a dusty construction zone.
Sure. But we're pretty much already at a point where EVERYTHING that needs to be interreacted with while moving is already reachable without one's hands leaving the wheel. We've got auto headlights, fingertip wipers, set-and-forget climate control right down to reasonably precise auto-defogging of at least the front, and regardless of what one might think, UB40's "Red Red Wine" coming on the oldies station is not an emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately to prevent incipient death. Everything else should be properly taken care of before setting off in the first place.
 

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WAY more people have died in cars than have ever died in a spaceship. ;)
Yeah, but how many Earth people have actually traveled in space? 1000? 2000? Now if you were to measure death rate by miles traveled, I'm sure space travel would be safer.
 
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These studies are nothing new, except that they have added capacitive controls in recent years. I can remember these studies from the 70s and 80s that were largely ignored or used to justify stupid design ideas (buttons good so we will put 100 of them on the dashboard - see my wife's Volvo for details).

Voice recognition is OK for non-safety-critical systems like entertainment and vehicle status (alexa, where is the nearest gas public restroom?). Technically HVAC is safety related (your windshield can quickly fog under certain conditions), so there is a limit to what I'd allow Alexa to do there.

When there is a fixed number of never-changing settings (especially on a continuum) greater than 2, a rotary dial (especially with a tactile indicator (arrow shape) indicating current position is the superior control. Prime example is HVAC controls ranging from Windshield only through blend Windshield/Floor through Floor through Floor/Vent to Vent is ideal for controlling direction of air flow.

For things that are continuous with a large number of possible settings (more than a dozen) Rotary dials (with or without tacticle indicator) are good good controls. Left right toggle buttons are also acceptable, but consistency with other related controls is also important here. For example, HVAC temperature being a rotary dial and Radio being toggles are OK in the same car. In this example knowing radio is all toggle and HVAC is all rotary actually helps avoid confusion between systems (don't accidentally turn up the volume when trying to turn up the temperature).

Buttons are good for certain feature where binary or 3 way is the decision being made (HVAC compressor on/off, radio on/mute/off) The hold button for the 3-way decision (on/mute/hold-off) is a good example of a single 3-way control with off as the hold-down feature). 2-way buttons should have a tactile high-low position.

And putting too many controls too close together is another issue. The old GM multiple rotary controls on the right hand stalk comes to mind here. It is OK to have up/down, back/forth, button on the end, and 1 rotary control on a single stalk, but NO MORE than that. Nesting a related button within a rotary dial (like Compressor on/off at the center of the air flow rotary dial and the fresh/recirc button within the temperature dial) is a good thing, but that would be the limit of this activity.
 

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As much as we liked our 2013 Gen 1 Volt we were never fans of the capacitance touch console, especially regarding the climate controls. When Chevy asked us, we told them to get rid of touch controls for critical operations like turning on the defroster. The touch controls meant taking one's eyes off the road at critical times like when you need to turn on the defroster to clear a fogging windshield while traveling at 60mph on a crowded freeway. This is one of the reasons why we are quite unlikely to ever own a Tesla.

Apparently, the NTSB agrees. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines recommend that “devices be designed so that tasks can be completed by the driver while driving with glances away from the roadway of 2 seconds or less.” The study also concluded that the impact on reaction time when using touch control, as opposed to voice control, was worse than texting while driving. They also found that a driver would take eyes off the road for as much as 20 seconds to cue up a song on Spotify. That thought is terrifying.

Hopefully, GM and the auto industry will take note. Edmunds did a dive into the pros and cons of touch screens. Here's the AP write up on the topic:
 
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