Human Centered Design and the Automobile

I’ll be here with the rest of the MotoIQ team to provide HCD-based technical reviews on both aftermarket parts and full vehicles.  There’s so much pristine marketing behind these new automotive tech products that it can be difficult to tell what’s worth its weight. I’ll be able to let you know if that new high-tech contraption is all flash or substantially usable.   Think of me as the in-house HCD subject matter expert.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the 2022 MINI Cooper S.  This street legal go-kart underwent a massive research project at the hands of icon incar: a German UX Design firm with an office in LA.  Take a look under the hood with me as we check out this revamp and I’ll give my two cents on how much of this upgrade is trendy versus scientifically sound.

‘Till next time.

Photos by


Spicy Carrot


  1. Welcome to the team! Glad to see another gearhead got their start in the back of their parents’ Volvo 740. Mine was a sedan.

  2. #10 RT_M HAHA!

    HCD IS a MUCH NEEDED and underappreciated field of engineering.
    Too many engineers out there fail to understand that just because an engineer can use it does not mean that a normal person can.

    I am guilty of the “It works for me” or “I was able to figure it out why can’t you?” mentality. It’s an easy trap to fall into if your in the weeds of the technical details and serving users who just want it to work. This is what Apple gets right most of the time. You can pick up any Apple device never having seen it before and understand how it works with in 30 seconds.

    Looking forward to the perspective and insights you bring to Motoiq!

    keep the one offs to a minimum.

    1. I am old so I need straightforward and intuitive designs, especially for something like a car when driving demands your undivided attention. Distracted driving is dangerous. Many cars nowadays require too much fiddling around, HAVC, Radio, Nav, and cruise control needs to be easy to reach, easy to do by feel and not buried in multi-layer menus.

    2. 100% – mobile UI is king, thanks to Apple. I think a lot of the GUIs we’ve seen will be streamlining to CarPlay/Android Auto with maybe a custom OEM skin and very minor levels of customization beyond what’s centralized.

  3. Welcome to the MotoIQ team!

    Instrumentation design and placement is overlooked in so many cars, along with side mirror placement. It will be interesting to read your assessments of the HCD elements of various car designs.

  4. Welcome fellow Formula SAE student!

    As far as I am concerned SAAB was the leader in this field from the 1970s onward. The curvature of the windscreen to the ‘night mode’ on the instrument cluster were innovative features and so far ahead of their time!


    The big thing about the Saab 900 dash is the ergonomic quality.

    The dash was specifically designed to have all the operations that needed to be close by at the driver’s fingertips. Operating stalks for indicators, wipers, washers were all placed within reach of the driver’s fingers without the driver have to lift their hands off the steering wheel. The steering wheel itself was a masterpiece of comfort and control, too.

    A short reach away on the door side of the steering wheel are the controls that only the driver should have access to. For example, the passenger shouldn’t be able to inadverdantly turn off the lights. Hence, they’re on the opposite side of the stering wheel. Same with the dimmer switch and the driver’s side mirror (also there because it’s the mirror for that side of the car).

    A short reach away on the passenger side of the steering wheel are the controls for the audio system, the climate control system and other functions.

    The dials for the climate system were all organised and set up to work so that the driver could operate them by touch without having to look at them. The fan was a small dial with discrete clicks between settings. The temperature dial worked in a smooth 180 degree arc (up for hot, down for cold – makes sense).

    The confusing-until-you-got-used-to-it dial was the vent outlet dial, with a myriad of arrows pointing in all sorts of directions. Spend a few minutes to study it though, and it all makes perfect sense. The switch positions move logically from top to bottom. From the top, you can set it to the windscreen, then to the windscreen and feet vents, feet vents only, feet vents with cold air from the facial vents, the driver’s facial vents or all dash level (facial vents).

    Note that those positions correspond with where the temperature setting would most likely be. When the temperature is set to hot (the dial points up) the most likely vent settings to be used are in the upper part of the selection range. It makes sense.

    Many have noted the fact that the dials were also made so that they could be operated easily by a gloved hand in winter. It’s also notable that the Saab 900s heater is like a furnace!

    Saab enthusiasts will also be familiar and very comfortable with Saab’s interior lighting. Green was chosen for its neutrality and the fact that it gave the closest effect to daylight conditions. The soft green lighting allows warning lights to stand out properly. It allows for the easiest reading of the matt black gauges with white lettering and orange needles – a setup that can be easily read with just a glance from the driver. Those gauges were deep set so as to avoid any glare on the 900’s superb, curved windscreen.


    The Saab 900 didn’t start the key-in-between-the-seats thing. That was the Saab 99. The 900 carried on the tradition, though, and I’m glad they did as it’s another case of something that’s seemingly unusual making perfect sense.

    The “between the seats” area is actually pretty important. Saab maintained the practice of having the handbrake there so that it could be operated by the passenger if necessary. Having the key there meant that the driver could fasten the seatbelt, insert the key, start the car and release the handbrake all in one easy set of operations.

    My 1985 Saab 900 also has electric window switches in this area (not shown in the photo, above) and these are perfectly positioned so that the driver can just reach down and operate the front windows without having to look for them. They’re located right where your fingers fall if you position your arm in this area.

    Saab have always made brilliant seats, and those in the 900 were a big part of this heritage. Saab made them to be very comfortable, and adjustable to the extent that over 90% of all drivers should be able to find an optimum driving position (not bad considering there were no steering wheel adjustments at that time). Seat heating kept the driver comfortable and alert.


    The Saab 900’s interior layout was a masterclass in modern ergonmics and drew high praise from the motoring public of the time. Trends in materials and design have taken a lot away from this interior but several of the main elements still remain: the green lighting, the key position (bring back those central window switches!), the toggled air vents. Many other aspects of the 900s interior such as logical switch positioning have been taken up by others and are now the rule rather than the exception.

    It’s still a truly extraordinary place to drive a car from. Supremely comfortable and very, very functional. I can only imagine what it must have been like, how revolutionary it must have been, 20 years or so ago.

    1. That’s such an interesting concept…maximizing the usage of the “in between the seats” space. Most cars you see these days offer a gap that’s *just* big enough for your keys to slide into the abyss and never return unless you perform minor surgery on the seat to retrieve them. I wonder if SAAB was the Nokia of its time in terms of the UX quality…worth investigating further. Thanks for sharing, Bob.

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