New look: A close-up shows floating animations on the passenger-side dashboard of a BMW concept car unveiled in 2011. The roadster’s design emphasized “comfort, safety and the infotainment experience.”
The auto industry is used to designing car bodies and interiors. How has in-car technology and connectivity changed your job?
It adds another dimension. We’re seeing more and more screens pop up in the cars, including the heads-up display. The design department that I head is designing all the images that appear on those screens. And our design process has gone from 2-D to 3-D. It’s complete animation. We’re in need of a different type of designer. In L.A. you can find animation artists, because the movie industry needs them as well. That’s who we’re looking at. You almost need to make a script before you start designing what’s happening on the screen. You need to know about filming and camera angles and animation, how you make things change or transition on the screen.
What is the look that captures connectivity? Does it vary from brand to brand?
It does vary. It looks different in a Mini than it does in a BMW. We are fully aware that the user interface or the user experience will tell as much about the brand as a mirror or door handle or actually operating the car. The Mini looks a bit more colorful and playful, and even the icons on the screen are more playful, funny. The icons spin around on the screen. Whereas on the BMW it’s a little more technical, a little more rational.
Many current systems, like BMW’s iDrive, use Bluetooth to connect with the phone of the driver, something brought from outside into the car. What does that mean for design?
It is tricky, because technology and the consumer electronics industry are changing faster than car design does. We build a new car every eight years. Cell-phone companies build a new phone every year. They have very different cycle times, so it’s hard to keep up. Bluetooth was a big step forward; we found a way that newer cell phones can communicate with cars. The next step is the cloud, so you don’t even need your phone anymore to access your music or address book. The next step is where you can access information in the car without a cell phone.
Regulators in the U.S. are worried that there is too much technology going into cars, and too many distractions for drivers. How does design address this problem?
We have that concern as well. As much as we like to give drivers a really nice, colorful user interface with lots of animation, we are also very concerned about having them operate in a safe way. In the end, it will be a trade-off. We can’t do as much as on a computer screen that you use when you sit at home on the couch. The car is a driving environment. This is why BMW is pushing the heads-up display. The information that is crucial to the driver, especially safety warnings, comes up.