Reading the tiny print on a baby medicine bottle is a challenge at 3 in the morning. With bleary eyes, I struggled to make out the dosage while my little girl cried. The task was difficult at the age of 30, and impossible at 60. Manufacturers do not always adapt their products for seniors. The subject is so topical that a recent Consumer Reports article rated different car models according to accessibility and safety for older drivers. This means making vehicles with more features like lane change warning and dashboard buttons or controls that are easy to see, feel, and operate. One would expect great interest in selling to aging baby boomers because they represent a large segment of the population with money to spend.
There are many things that occur with getting older. These include wisdom, experience, and patience, which translate into safer driving. There are also challenges, such as seeing and hearing less well, slowing of reflexes, and reduction of coordination and mental processing. These changes can be addressed by applying the concept of “universal design” which advocates simplicity, intuitiveness, ease of sensing, and low physical effort.
When these goals are applied to a car’s cabin, controls are easy to see reach, feel and manipulate. Using more than one sense to operate a control enhances its accessibility, such as recognizing a button because of its distinctive appearance and feel. Consider a large round knob for adjusting the radio volume. Controls that are readily recognized because of their appearance or feel reduce distraction, especially at night or when driving conditions cause sensory or information overload.
Alternatively, consider some challenging interfaces for drivers of any age and possible solutions (some relating to SofTrek innovations):
- Smooth flat screens that require precise finger positioning guided by sight for item selection.
- Add tactile features to the smart screen.
- Simplify display with larger but fewer items.
- Associate display items with buttons at the side of the screen.
- Associate display items with the tactile features of buttons at the side of the screen.
- Horizontal or vertical grouping of buttons that are typically smooth surfaced and difficult to distinguish from each other. A vertical line of buttons may be at the side of smart screens. A horizontal line of buttons may be under a radio display.
- Increase button sizing, spacing, and diversity.
- Add tactile features so that one button can be distinguished readily from the other by the way it feels when it is touched.
- Associate the appearance, positioning, and feel of a button with the format and appearance of menu items on a heads-up display.
- Small controls with small print or icons on steering wheels, the dashboard, and elsewhere in the cabin.
- Add tactile features to the buttons
- Make buttons larger with larger print or images, if possible.
- Incorporate auditory or visual feedback when the driver touches or selects a control.
- Crowding many controls on or around the steering wheel and in the cabin.
- Reducing the number of controls in a cabin by increasing the number of functions that can occur when a control is manipulated.
- Using software coding to diversity the functionality of a control.
- Displaying on the windshield or heads-up display the various functions determined by a control.
- Using a database to determine the functionality and appearance of menu options associated with a control.
So the next time you find yourself bleary-eyed because of small print, consider the principles of “universal design”. They are helping me shop for that special car with my needs in mind.
“Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University”. Design.ncsu.edu.