Ford recently overhauled their car dashboards to make car interfaces less sucky and more like mobile phones. They focused on better usability and teamed up with design firm Ideo to create a consistent UI for all their cars.
Ford sought advice from Ideo, maker of Apple's original mouse, to come up with a consistent DNA that would become the standard layout on all their vehicles. Instead of inventing their own method to do things, they chose more familiar input devices similar to iPods and TV remote controls. Here are some of their changes:
One is the five-point controller - four directional arrows with a central button - on the steering wheel. Used on many electronic gadgets, it had roots in the points of the compass. Five-point controllers on the steering wheel are easily operated with the thumb, which lets drivers keep their eyes on the road.
A central eight-inch screen is organized around four corners and four colors: yellow-orange for the phone, green for navigation, blue for climate control and red for entertainment. There are, mercifully, large knobs for volume and fan speed.
You can see how much mobile phone UI influenced Ford and Ideo in the prototype (the white and blue dashboard) and how much of that eventually trickled into the production model (the black dashboard). I think the changes that Ford made are absolutely welcome as car dashboards have been terrible from a technological standpoint for a very long time. [NY Times]