Car & Driver, who are usually quite sensible, betrayed a distinct, glaring flash of silliness when they complained about the size of the gear lever in the new Buick Lacrosse.
This is what C&D wrote about the interior: “Outside is a handsome exterior; inside, the cabin is vastly improved over the old model’s. With a simple, flowing design and much nicer materials, the Buick’s innards are spoiled only by the oversize, BMW-style electronic shift lever. It is the only interior component seemingly still geared toward geriatric users (look at the size of an outgoing LaCrosse‘s dashboard buttons and you’ll know what we’re on about here). Otherwise, the Buick is lighter, sweeter, and we’re looking forward to driving it.”
This kind of thing makes me want to shout. Usability is an essential element to the design of any object intended for use by humans (that includes cars). Humans come in a range of sizes and with a spread of abilities. If Buick is going to exclude some of those users in the name of styling that makes it questionable design, bordering on the unethical.
The implication one gets from reading C&D’s odd comment is that they want small buttons and fiddly controls. Every other aspect of cars is judged on fitness for purpose: engine, suspension, steering and accommodation. It’s inconsistent to look for and to praise a design that makes the secondary controls smaller and therefore less useful and less safe than they could be. It’s a very nicely shaped dashboard and there is lots of space there to have larger buttons – and all this without making them look unsatisfactory.
C&D betray a rather noxious dismissal of older users which would be unacceptable if directed at other slices of society. Choose a minority of your own and think of a way to exclude them – would that go over? This small piece of their article also betrays a general disconnection between motoring writers and the large base of consumers who use these machines on a daily basis.
Here’s the outgoing car’s interior. Those buttons and controls don’t look all that huge either. These aren’t buttons the size of beermats.
From this I draw the general rule that it’s a bad idea to sneer at various user groups on the basis of non-discretionary traits. Industrial designers produce solutions for diverse slices of society and large spectra of user capabilities. Motoring writers – some of them – seem only to judge a car by the way it satisfies their own needs.