In recent years, the number of screens in the car has increased significantly, with more screens being installed not just in-dash but also on the front headrests for those in the back.
"Designing for that sort of diversity of screens and even multi-modal controls — hand controls versus touch versus voice — creates a complexity that I don't think we've ever had to deal with before," said Meehan. That’s why he thinks some designers are already beginning to resist adding any more screens to cars in favor of a more minimalist approach.
But while the shift towards screens is challenging for designers, it might only be natural for future generations of drivers, according to Jason Maan, Technical Artist (UI/UX) at The Qt Company. "They're way more comfortable interfacing key features through a screen rather than physical knobs and buttons, which is something we need to keep in mind when it comes to our design elements."
It seems screens in our cars are here to stay, but we’re only just starting to understand how to use them.
Bringing UI to life
When asked about upcoming trends in automotive design, Maan talked about the rising customer demand for 3D elements in vehicle user interfaces (UI). While designers can already add richer visuals to the UI, the challenge comes with the hardware required to render 3D graphics, be they images of traffic or map visuals.
"At Qt, we work with embedded hardware. And every company wants the highest quality images for the cheapest hardware possible. So, making sure that those high-image, high-fidelity assets can perform properly even on cheaper hardware is definitely a challenge," he said.
Another trend often associated with cars of the future, but already being seen in today’s cars, is the use of wearables to add to the driving experience.
"Wearables are the future of driving," said TomTom UX Concepts Team Lead Paul Schouten. He thinks that if people are willing to put on a piece of technology such as glasses or watches that connect them to their vehicle, it could make for a much more seamless experience.