The future of car interfaces is changing rapidly as the Internet of things and digital connectivity pervade the world. Companies must embrace a new mindset and approach to deliver the transportation experiences of tomorrow.

As digital technologies bring more intelligence and connectivity into the vehicles, it is driving a focus on the consumer software side of the automobile beyond the automobile parts and technology.

To date, the HMI (human machine interface) within vehicles has lagged behind in the experience quality and connectivity that consumers have become accustomed to in their mobile, tablet and other device applications. As automakers have had to balance safety, integration, and other manufacturing issues the result has often created complex, counter-intuitive experiences for drivers. Today, consumers are expecting their 40,000 dollar car to seamlessly integrate with their 400 dollar device and operate via similar controls and interactions. The tables have turned and automakers and suppliers must now dedicate time to refining and improve their in-car interfaces for a more connected future.


A few points to consider in this effort will be:

  • Start by examining the vehicle manufacturing process

This has been a thriving industry for many years. As a result, chances are high that the automotive company has built their entire process around the physical manufacture of the vehicle, and has given little space for a proper approach of the HMI. We are convinced that if hardware and software teams begin their dialogue at the concept stage, we’d have much more cohesive vehicle experiences.


  • The entire car is the interface

Let’s get our minds away from thinking of HMI as the meters and center stack, and consider all parts of the vehicle internally and externally that could be used to interact naturally and ergonomically. This would be a natural outcome of technology and physical design groups collaborating earlier in the manufacturing process. It’s not about an infotainment system that slots into a predefined position; it’s about the entire vehicle experience.


  • With connection comes awareness

The HMI experience we know today will change soon as vehicles are ubiquitously connected to other vehicles on the road, city infrastructure, and local businesses. To do this, we need to ensure interfaces are supported with smart systems to crunch data, monitor the user(s) and understand the intent. The in-car experience would surface the right information at the right time, always in respect to the user(s) in control.


  • Take advantage of progressive disclosure

Most car interfaces are a legion of screens, switches, knobs, dials, and buttons, all competing for your attention and understanding. Imagine what a car could feel like if the desired function surfaced at the time you needed it, and got out of the way when you didn’t. Yes, certain systems require persistent, even redundant controls, but many do not.


  • Adapt for greater personalization

We need to move beyond adjusting seats and mirrors. As car sharing models become more pervasive, the vehicle’s ability to adapt to the driver’s preferences and technology becomes essential. The same car could feel dramatically different in drive and control from one user to the next as the interface adapts to harmonize with personalized, intelligent technology that the user brings on board.


  • Consider all passengers’ needs

Automotive interfaces tend to cater to the driver. And while we always need to solve for a single user and multi-user scenarios, there’s much opportunity to create in-car experiences that bring all passengers together, whether providing access to the same control and comforts or looking at systems that allow multi-user resource pooling. This gets even more interesting when pooling resources across connected fleets.


  • Prepare for autonomy

The self-driving vehicle is rapidly approaching and with it, will surely come anxiety as the user relinquishes control of the vehicle. Interfaces we create today need to prepare users for the trust and assurance that they will need to put their lives in the hands of autonomous vehicles. Once users can trust the vehicle to handle navigation and safety, the in-car experience will need to change dramatically to provide the user(s) with flexibility and choice as their focus shifts to using travel time in other meaningful ways.

As a human interface company, we have been working with key players in the automobile industry to guide them through this time of transformation. We have seen first-hand the challenges and the opportunities. This list is just a few key considerations that we believe will be critical to address as these companies seek to design and deliver better car interfaces and experiences.

The cars of the future will depend upon seamless interfaces and interactions that enable drivers to move beyond the fundamentals of driving to embrace new modes of behavior in a more connected and autonomous world.


Punchcut is a human interface design company specializing in mobile, connected products and services. Punchcut works with the world’s top companies to envision, design and realize next generation connected experiences across devices and platforms that engage customers and transform businesses in a connected world.
A Punchcut Perspective | Contributors: Jared Benson, Ken Olewiler
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