necessary philosophy lesson of the day

If you’re depressed you’re living in the past.

If you’re anxious you’re living in the future.

If you’re at peace you’re living in the present.

(From the Hua Hu Ching, The Unknown Teachings of Lao Zhu, Brian Walker interpretation)

How dangerous is the Tesla tablet-in-the-dash?

The more we see big flat glass touch panels show up in the dashboard of new cars, the less I am convinced that in-dash experience designers are ignoring in-your-lap tablet experience design principles and norms, and the more it looks like they’re just copying-and-pasting their tablet interaction models straight to the car.

I have a recent Prius and I have long since lost interest in fighting with that hard-to-control-at-a-glance UI.  This week I saw this article on the Tesla and felt like if even this pinnacle of beautiful design can’t seem to understand driver needs, it’s going to be a long time (and a lot of road scares and harm) before we ever tune the technology to actually assist and not detract from the driver’s main job.

Tesla touchscreen

One colleague started discussion saying:

I love Tesla! The Model S is a gorgeous car. Finally, somebody designed an electric car that doesn’t look terrible. As for the dashboard, I think the UI is awesome. But I’m not sure it doesn’t impact the driver’s ability to pay attention to the road. I like the tactile sensation of knobs and buttons when I’m driving. I feel like I will have to pay much more attention to a fully touch dashboard, and thus pay less attention to the road.

I love the intent to question aging, anachronistic design paradigms, and to experiment with “start from scratch” designs. I too am concerned that this “iPad on your dash” hasn’t yet reached the balance between “fully flexible and context-dependent” and “easy for users to learn and fumble to a correct interaction without massive shifts in attention off the many critical attention foci that surround a moving vehicle every second”. It’s concerning that we’re literally performing these experiments on life-and-limb-threatening and increasingly attention-distracted roadways while the industry teaches itself new interaction models.

Without any physical affordances (e.g. edges/boundaries, permanent/predictable/easily-learnable targets) the 17-inch piece of glass is a nightmare of “at a glance, with little attention” interactions in a car for the driver. An interesting middle ground (which I hope we reach in the future) is a balance of bright, big, non-distracting display and haptic/physically-bounded touch targets [for touch interactions] and/or less-intrusive voice/eye-tracking/gesture-based input models.

For me, trying to touch those never-in-the-same-place-from-UI-to-UI buttons on my Prius’ touchscreen is just dangerous, frustrating and error-prone. At minimum, I’d like to see these “buttons” about 2-3 times their current size, so I can just grossly mash at them rather than have to precisely target them.

These kinds of finger-sized touch targets work find on a tablet where you have time to concentrate; very counterproductive in car UI [for the driver] where I’d expect sub-second glance-target-mash-resume interactions should be the interim goal (and “no loss of visual attention on the roadway” should be the final goal).

Colleague 2 said:

The future aviation dashboards are touch rich devices (thales avionics future cockpit won a design award).


But the industry is currently in a bit of a split. The modernization of the flight systems is helping the more mundane tasks like cruising or altitude climbing, but creating huge problems with takeoffs/descents/approaches/landings. Instead of knowing the 10 buttons you need to push/turn, you now need to remember what menu things are under. In an emergency, the manual systems have a better result. There aren’t any hidden features of the aircraft that you might have accidentally triggered.


There is also a school of thought that all this aircraft automation/simplification is creating pilots that don’t know how to fly well. So when an emergency hits. They are just as clueless as the passengers as to what to do.

I worry about this.  I sincerely hope that we never find drivers in the position of having to perform emergency interactions with their car’s controls through a flat-glass, multi-level-menu touch interface. It’s bad enough this has begun to creep into the airline industry; hopefully the car manufacturers are being more cognizant of the vehicle occupants’ lives (though I worry that the buried-deep-in-the-bowels-of-the-corporation’s-design-studios’ interface designers aren’t always made to recognize this as the primary goal of every surface of the vehicle).

At least in the case of an airplane at 30,000 feet, there’s a little time to recover from a significant mistake [boy I sure hope that’s true]; in the case of a car, I can’t call up Robert Hays from the back seat to take over when I screw up – no least because most screw-ups that threaten life and limb afford very low latency.


Where has “this week in my meetups” been?

lebowski barEarlier this year I set out to build for myself a community of people I could get together with after work, and wanted to leverage the amazing array of Meetups, events and ad-hoc gathering spots in Portland where interesting geeks and nerds gather to talk shop, get to know one another and advance their personal and professional interests.  I’d started pulling in people I like and that express an interest in the UX & tech scene in Portland, then created a personal mailing, and kept adding more effort to the weekly emails I was sending (like I was trying to impress myself with just how “good” I could make it).
Then I decided to give up sending that email out a month ago, when I realised that the whole point of sending it was to encourage folks I liked to come out to the events I’m attending, and that (I can say pretty confidently) I saw few if any people come to any event because of those emails.  I don’t remember ever getting a response on email that was anything but “keep sending the emails”, but notably never any encouragement of my goal like  “I’m sorry I can’t make it, I’ll see you at the next one”.
It became a job, a weekly duty that consumed so much of my time that I started to devote Sunday afternoons to the research, the picture selections and the prose to wrap around the selected meetups.  And yet for all that labour, the self-satisfaction of “building a community”, the net effect since stopping the emails has been the same: no more or fewer people I like attending these events and reaching out to me there than before I even started.
It was a disappointing result, because I really like connecting with a community (not just showing up alone and never getting to know people past the small talk), so I’m still trying to figure out if there’s any way to encourage the folks I like to come out to these events (that *doesn’t* cost me hours every week without visible payoff).  At the moment, the next-best tools I’ve got are Twitter, txt and IFTTT.  I’m pretty much stumped, so I’ve been sitting on my heels.
Which doesn’t feel good, and I’d like to make something work.
Ruminating on this all day, I couldn’t decide if there was any reason to continue – except one: for low cost of personal effort, the effort of posting word to the world that I’m going out somewhere public gives me incentive to follow through beyond my anxieties, fears and self-doubt.
So tonight, in my darkest moment, I prayed to the gods of google, and the pantheon of stackexchange answered:
“ifttt send email to many recipients” coughed up “Using IFTTT to trigger email notifications to group of recipients
Create a mailing list, that gets sent whenever I post something to my Design blog? 

Sure, why the hell not?  If I can make this work, it’ll make my life easier, reduce the mental burden of getting this stuff “out there”, and open the door for others to contribute on their own.  This’ll be an experiment with a different direction: it’s for me, at my whim, and everyone else is welcome to participate or not at their whim.

I’m going to commit to *not* making it a weekly, regular, grinding responsibility for myself.  If this is truly for me, and to encourage myself to post when *I* want, and not when I feel I must post to meet some arbitrary self-imposed obligation, then it doesn’t really matter what frequency it happens.
And so, dear reader, while I’m on the subject, I pose the questions that I keep asking myself: why haven’t you come out to the events I’ve invited you to?  Did I not make you feel welcome?  Do you not have the time, but haven’t gotten around to admitting it to yourself?  Do you, like me, have serious social anxiety and have a hard time making the effort to go out to an event where 95% of the people don’t know you and pose a threat?  Do you, like me, like to feel included in something personal, but just aren’t interested in participating in the events I’ve mentioned?  Do you like to have others do the work for you, and once it’s done, you realise how uninteresting it all is?  Do you like to know about the world outside work, and feel comforted that it exists, so that someday in the future you might decide to engage in it all?  Or are you like me a people-pleaser, not wanting to say no to my face when asked if you’d like to join this list, and don’t have the heart to let me know that you’re not really into it?
These questions come from my own personal curiosity, and my earnest desire to understand why I’ve failed to draw you out and what I can meaningfully do to make this change (if anything).  I don’t expect an answer – it’s entirely unlikely I’ll ever really know – but these are the questions that have been rattling around in my head for the weeks since I put my efforts on hiatus.
I know that when I used to mention an individual event to people in person, I was actually rewarded with real participation.  I know it wasn’t about me, and that there were probably many other motivators; heck, it’s entirely possible that once they got out to those events, they decided that such events just weren’t for them and just didn’t bother to let themselves know that they’re not really committed to going anymore.
I sincerely hope it’s not that, that the timing was bad, and that there is genuine interest in communing with folks like myself at after-work meetups where we can relax a little, learn a little and grow our circle of people we can call friends.  Hope to see you there.
P.S. I’ll be at Portland UX Book Club on Tuesday night.