In this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].
The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Dana Chisnell—Principal Consultant at UsabilityWorks; Co-author of Handbook of Usability Testing
- Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- David Kozatch—Principal at DIG
- Cory Lebson—Principal Consultant at Lebsontech; Author of UX Careers Handbook (forthcoming); Past President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA)
- Gavin Lew—Executive Vice President of User Experience at GfK
- Baruch Sachs—Senior Director, User Experience at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist
Q: Ford recently recalled some of their SUVs because drivers were accidentally turning them off because of the user interface design. How do these types of design errors still happen in this day and age?—from a UXmatters reader
Recently, Ford recalled 13,000 Lincoln MKC SUVs because of the possibility that drivers might accidentally shut down their vehicles by inadvertently hitting the Engine Start/Stop button, which is directly below the gearshift selector buttons and beside the all-in-one navigation/radio/climate-control touchscreen. According to a CNN story, “Ford Recalls SUVs Because Drivers Are Accidentally Turning Them Off,” One driver experienced a sudden, hard stop after his passenger accidentally hit the button while trying to operate the radio. You can see an image of the design in question in that article.
To make matters worse, if a driver or passenger accidentally shuts down the engine by hitting the Engine Start/Stop button, the airbags will not deploy as expected, according to The Register’s article “Ford Recalls SUVs … to Fix the UI,” and Edmunds’ article “2015 Lincoln MKC Recalled to Relocate Push-Button Start.” The engine shuts down unexpectedly and the airbags stop working! This is bad! You can see a short discussion and demo of this unexpected engine shutdown occurring at low speed, in the Consumer Reports video “Lincoln MKC Ignition Button Recall Highlights Risk.” The video also shows how easy it could be to inadvertently hit the button while bracing the hand to operate the touchscreen system when the vehicle is in motion. Ford’s solution for this problem is to place the Engine Start/Stop button at the top of the gearshift. You can see its new position in this video, too. In this age of better UX design, how could the original design ever have made it to market?
“I find this story fascinating,” answers David. “Based on the photograph, it’s clear that its designers were breaking some rules: an ignition button or key entry should never be in the same line as the transmission. And the button is small—smaller than what drivers, including those familiar with button-based ignitions, have come to expect when powering up a 5,000–6,000-pound machine. The engineers should have figured this out before they started building the car. We can’t know for sure what went wrong at Ford, but some of the ways in which they could have avoided this problem include the following:
- Doing initial paper and/or model prototyping to answer questions about how to use the control and to determine comfort-level ratings of the user interface, in comparison to what drivers are currently using, would likely have brought up these issues: ‘Why would you put the ignition in same place as the transmission?’ and ‘Why is the button so small?’
- Simulating the driving experience using the user interface would have revealed the problem—especially if the tests had involved completing several maneuvers over a period of time that made use of the Sport feature.
“It is very likely that form was following function here—that is, the engineers probably determined the optimal location for the power switch beneath the dash based on engineering requirements. From an engineering standpoint, this probably meant a location that did not require a lot of rejiggering of other functions. Unfortunately, this placement was less than optimal for the driver.
“By the way, a pet peeve of mine regarding a lot of user interfaces for electronics devices is hiding the On/Off button. Many manufacturers combine On/Off with other functions, but simplicity is always best, which means On/Off should always be a clearly marked, stand-alone function. Toyota figured this out for the push button in their Prius and Lexus autos, but many car audio manufacturers have not.”
This question reminded David of an earlier discussion in the Ask UXmatters column “Asking Probing Questions During a Usability Study,” and he said, “A lack of probing questions likely contributed to Ford’s failure to discover this issue before shipping the SUV. The engineers at Ford were looking at that power button, but not seeing it in the way their customers would see it.”