Automotive UI

In order to explore new HCI paradigms for automotive interfaces that promote low glance time and high usability, we created an interface that demonstrated several new gesture interactions.

We integrated a haptic technology called electrostatic friction, or ESF. It allows you to programmatically create sensations of texture on a flat surface, such as the glass above a touchscreen. To experience the benefit of this technology, the user needs to move a finger on the screen to feel textures. At the time we did this project, most automotive interactions were based on tapping gestures. So we needed to design some new UI widgets that utilized slides and swipes.

For many widgets, such as the vent controls, we took cues directly from physical controls like sliders and dials. Sliding on the screen to adjust slider and dial widgets is intuitive. For some controls that are normally buttons, like selecting airflow regions, we experimented with a UI widget taking cues from a spring-loaded switch.

For navigation, we needed a new approach, because most navigation interfaces utilize tapping or clicking. So we created a “furling tab.” Inactive tabs were furled away, and active tabs were unfurled. This was a cool solution because you could tell at a glance which tab was active but it also prompted users to use slide gestures to switch tabs. The texture that played as you folded and unfolded tabs felt a bit like crinkling paper, and we were even able to create a stronger effect at the boundary of the tab, so that you could feel when a tab was completely extended or completely furled up.

I was responsible for graphic design, and collaborated with a research scientist specialized in ESF, Vincent Levesque, on the interaction design.

When new HCI methods are introduced, such as electrostatic friction feedback, designers need to teach users the new interactions. Through user testing we found that heavy use of skeuomorphism, with shadows and grippers, helped people understand how to use the new controls – for example, sliding a virtual spring-loaded switch, rather than tapping a button, to perform basic actions.