Car Windows - half the convenience...

When it's a beautiful day outside and I climb into a hot-as-hell car that's been sweltering in a parking lot for several hours, I want BOTH windows down, and fast. And when I want to connect with the outside world while cruising rather than isolate myself in a soundproof shell, I want both windows down, too. (Or maybe my car is the only one that makes a "thub thub thub" sound as passing air resonates when only one window is open?) My gripe du jour is that car designers overwhelmingly seem to assume that the driver only wants the convenience of one-touch-down (and up) on the driver's own window. Why? Well, let's check the logic...

  • Cost? Nah, it's not a cost issue, or at least not a significant one - the price difference between the basic and the one-touch switch (along with related hardware) is on the order of a dollar. That's a drop in the bucket of a twenty thousand dollar hunka steel. Of course, every dollar does count a little bit, and it's possible that the margins are right on the edge... Possible, but not likely.
  • Safety? This could indeed be an issue for a one-touch-up feature which is controlled by the driver, but which controls a different window. Designers can assume the driver is in control of his or her own limbs, but to keep track of everyone else's is a whole different story. Still, one-touch-up windows are equipped with safety stops which will reverse the window if there's too much resistance. And when you really get down to it, this could be one of those user-set features I'm always advocating, which could be turned on or off to suit each user's safety preferences.
  • Confusion? Actually, it seems to me that avoiding user confusion is a reason to put this feature on all window buttons. It's a function that's by now well understood by all users, and pretty much a given that it'll be included on the driver's window. The confusion is when I hit both buttons simultaneously, and the sneaky little buggers behave differently! It's like playing some kind of wind instrument: lift one finger from the auto-down, keep the other one pressed until it's open. The Window-Downing Concerto, first opus.
  • Just didn't think of it? As with many of the bad designs covered on this blog, I suspect this is the case. Since the development of the one-touch switch, I'm guessing nobody every reeeally thought about usage patterns - who does what, when, where, why, and how. The art and science of needfinding are woefully underapplied to consumer products, especially in mature industries where everyone's just gotten used to dealing with the status quo.
To close on a more upbeat note, just imagine the gotta-have-it features that could be added for a few extra bucks to every car out there with a power package: The all-open button for immediate aeration of a hot or stuffy car! The all-close button to lock'er up! A button to "leave the windows cracked" on a hot day! And to hit the jackpot, put all of these functions on the keyless entry. C'mon, car makers. Pay attention to what people do with your products, and help us out a little.

4 comments:

BQuadrazor said...

I used to think it was a cost thing... b/c a lot of upscale brands offer it on all four windows. e.g - BMW, just to mention one

Dave Gustafson said...

Razor, good point - there's definitely an added cost for this feature. My thought, I guess, is that the added usability benefit is well worth the extra few bucks - and for the small added cost to the manufacturing of the car, the resulting perception of the car as high-quality/luxury/upscale could really help a car's reputation!

Anonymous said...

The cost here is that those safety stop sensors cost more money than the manufacturer wants to pay. They feel the driver's auto function is all that is necessary to satisfy the driver's needs and the mfg's bottom line.

Dave Gustafson said...

It's often safe to say that many features (or potential features) represent costs that are "more than the manufacturer wants to pay" - the problem from a user-centric product design perspective is that it's a trade-off, and the user is woefully underrepresented when that balance is being considered!