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What do drivers want from automotive HMI design?



4 May 2023

It’s no longer basic transportation from point A to point B. When drivers get behind the steering wheel, there’s an expectation the vehicle will enrich their lives through comfort and convenience. Automotive HMI, the intersection where person and machine meet, has morphed from a basic infotainment screen to encompass fluid movement between in-vehicle and outside-world interactions, geared to serve and engage the driver better.

Developing the driver ecosystem of the future requires creativity as much as foresight, and automotive HMI trends need to connect based on driver psychology – not just adding tools to address pain points, but predicting and eliminating concerns before they happen. So, what is it that drivers want from HMI design?

An oasis on wheels

Historically, a touchscreen infotainment system was considered the interface that helped drivers get comfortable. It still is, however, the technology has expanded immensely and can encompass much more than auto and HVAC controls.

Star design services Automotive & Mobility technology director, Ryan Goff, pictures a scenario of where automotive HMI and digital cockpit development can go. Imagine an EV driver is charging their car and simply says, “Help me relax.” The car’s interior dims, their seat reclines, the dashboard shimmers with the Northern Lights while nature sounds and a light breeze accompany massaging seats. As the charging session wraps up, the car gently returns to its previous state and the driver feels refreshed.

It’s this type of immersive driver comfort that opens up with meaningful HMI design, utilizing existing equipment.

Confident control of safety

The in-car experience is just as important for drivers to trust new technologies intended to improve safety. It might seem like gamification for the display to show what the vehicle’s sensors and cameras are detecting, but as autonomous driving becomes more prevalent, it’s precisely this transparency that fosters trust among vehicle operators.

When partial or full self-driving technologies are integrated, a driver develops trust in them when they can see what the car sees. The automotive cockpit HMI doesn’t need to tie into these advanced safety systems to operate, but it enables the driver to put their faith in the tech. It’s one of the few areas where redundancies are appreciated.

Natural commands

The in-car assistant is more capable than ever, and it’s an area that drivers want to see even more gains in automotive HMI development. Star’s principal designer for automotive digital solutions, Thomas Helmer, states the importance and affinity for voice commands in HMI. When the driver can verbally communicate their desires in natural language that’s often imprecise, it improves the experience.

Helmer says that human-feeling speech is crucial, and it’s an opportunity for language to be on-brand too. The seamless transition between voice command and other input modes is also key for drivers. When it’s paired with in-car payment solutions, it offers the ability to perform functions that take the in-car assistant out of the vehicle.

Localized design aspects

An often overlooked aspect of automotive HMI challenges is regional differences. Drivers in the US, for example, are guided to drive on the right side of the road for navigation whereas certain geographic regions are on the left side. This design aspect needs to translate into other areas to communicate impactfully with the driver.

Star head of design, Alexander Debkaluik, points to the drowsy driving indicator as an example. In the Americas, a coffee cup on the screen is effective to let drivers know they aren’t as attentive as they should be, while a bowl of rice is most effective among Chinese drivers. These regional design characteristics make the cockpit feel more personal.

Despite being leaps and bounds more driver-centric than even a decade ago, companies like Star consulting believe the in-car experience can be even more intuitive, comfortable, engaging, and safe. Expect out-of-the-box elements to appear in future iterations that make the vehicle feel like an extension of the driver.

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Business Motoring

Business Motoring

Business Motoring is the motoring resource for small businesses and SME small fleets running company cars and business cars.

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