To see the Full Research report: Click Here

Estimated Reading Time: 30 Min (It’s a tome with plenty of pretty graphs)

We spend about 150 hours a year in our car, so why does it feel like cars aren’t really designed for use?

It’s only in the last couple years that it feels like there has been any real change to cars with what I believe to be the explosion of Electric Vehicles, Assisted Driving technologies, and small manufacturers maintaining presence in the news (Tesla).  Without delving too deep into this, I found myself wondering if we could do more for the Experience of Driving and on the flip side, do we even know how to use the car properly?  This can be broad, so I focused mostly on the dashboard.

So, do people know what their car is trying to communicate?


I made a survey.

I started with what I don’t know, moved onto more of what I wanted to know, organized the survey to flow logically from subject to subject, and tested it before giving it out.

I had 102 responses to my 26 question survey.  I used Google Forms and solicited respondents from several Facebook groups and a car forum.  I had to remove 1 response as the answers provided were aggressive and did not answer questions.

I also conducted in-person interviews with people but this was less structured.


A question was asked if drivers knew what all of the icons on the dashboard meant and people generally responded that they did (92% knew most of the icons) but a follow up question exploring that answer was met with guesses and uncertainty.  There can be many explanations for this (I lean heavily toward Social Desirability Bias) but I’d place more weight on the answer to follow up question than the first towards what is reality.

Additionally, I asked questions more specifically about the RPM gauge on the dashboard.  As part of this process, I had the hypothesis that it was antiquated and that drivers no longer used it on automatic cars and could be done away with.  This question saw a similar theme to the one about icons where ‘of course I know what it does but I don’t ever use it because I don’t know how’ type of responses.

This is a common theme throughout my research, an uncertainty of what is being shown and also what to do with it.

Finally, I have to be honest and admit that every question I asked could be expanded into a research project of its own.  This work merely opened the door to what we could do and what we don’t know.

Last Takeaway

One of the most memorable things I learned during this project had to do with how drivers used the dashboard if they had had problems in the past.  One respondent had a car which frequently overheated, so they would look at the oil temp gauge a lot.  Even after they sold that car, it was still important for them to always be aware of that information.

It’s a reminder that we’re not always rational beings and when we try and design for people, we might be fighting an old memory, something that is no longer useful but provides comfort.  That’s an interesting problem space to be a part of.