Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ford SmartGauge Instument Panel

For those who like cars and customer experience, it's worth checking out this demo on the new Ford SmartGauge Instrument Panel. Essentially, two high-def LCD panels make up the core part of the dash where the speedo and other instruments sit. The video has a nice walkthrough.

Some comments.

The initial experience is nice -- you unlock the car from your remote keyfob, and the interior is bathed in blue light. Makes it easy to find your car in a dark parking lot, and is also simply cool.

Once you are in the car, but have not put in the key, the blue panels are replaced with a cheesy grass and blue sky image. This looks too much like Windows booting up to me, but I don't think it's a big negative.

The nicest moment is when you turn the car on. The instrument panel visually unfolds, and the red speedo needle cranks all the way clockwise, before returning to zero. The effect is quite beautiful, and for those into performance cars, having the needles in the gauges crank over and settle back is a really nice touch. This is my favorite part.

As for the instrument panel itself, I'm mixed. I think that things like the temp readout should be hidden. Most people do not care what temp their car is, they only want to know if it's overheating, and whether or not the heater will work. There are much better ways to do both of these. Also, the warning lights are the same tiny, incomprehensible icons. Again, given the flexibility of the new display, Ford could do better.

I like how there are both a fuel and battery level indicators, and while there are elements of the graphic design I don't love, I think they work well. The charging/discharging affordance on the battery indicator is discrete and efficient, as is the amber/yellow/red low fuel light warning system on the fuel gauge.

The immediate feedback you get on your economy will motivate people to hypermile, which I think is a good thing, and so I would make this even clearer. I understand what they were trying to do with the long term fuel economy reading (the plant on the right) but I'm not sure I love the final executive. That said, I'm sure this was something that design fought long and hard for, so we'll have to see how it works in the real world.


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