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Business Week [businessweek.com] reports about the latest prototype dashboard concept developed together with Smart Design: giving drivers a wealth of information in an enticing format without confusing or, worse, distracting them, proved challenging. Complex graphs or fuel usage timelines were ignored in favor for more iconographic alternatives: "Fuel gauges, for instance, are represented by an image of a tank filled with an oil-like yellow liquid".

User research discovered how drivers get obsessed with achieving a "high score", that is the lowest fuel usage. Therefore, fuel efficiency is represented by an "eye-catching rendering of curling vines blooming with green leaves: It's more than a decorative element; it's a data-visualization tool intended to change the way people drive. If a driver wastes gas by aggressively accelerating or slamming on the brakes, for example, the vine withers and leaves disappear. More leaves appear if individuals drive more economically." Even more, this "data visualization" dashboard will be available standard on all new Ford Fusion Hybrids.

Proposing such an abstract, let's say quite artistic (vine leaves? in a car?), data display is quite surprising. Is this the resurrection of the ambient display concept?

For an opposite approach, also see the post about the Lamborghini Reventón dashboard. Same topic also on The Wall Street Online, Take Apart, The Motor Report, and a lot of other car blogs. Via Flowing Data.

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18 COMMENTS

I understand it's a concept, but way too cutesy for me; I'd never buy a car with this in it.

I'd prefer a gauge with current (instant) efficiency with an option to see it over hour/day/week/month. Maybe subtle visual queues on trends as they occur during driving.

Give me intelligent, fun, interactive gauges; not dying plants.

Thanks.K.Bye.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 12:40 AM
Eric Baker

Agreed. There's _nothing_ wrong with a conventional instrument cluster. Everyone understands it immediately and it conveys info just fine. Plus, it'll never look outdated, which this will in about, oh, 3 years.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 1:05 AM

Is it me or does that feel it could crash at any time? Its got that freeware feel to it. Maybe its me but I don't trust it which isn't great for a device like this.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 2:27 AM
Johnboy

...look outdated in 3 years? This never has been nor will it ever be to date. Horrible graphics probably driven by the client as I believe that Smart Design could do a much better job. The headers don't fit on the background, the type is not legible, graphics cover up type, colors look like they were chosen by a 3 year old - everything is off. Don't get me started on the leaves... I hope this is an early concept.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 4:05 AM
Tom

I agree it might not be the most efficient data visualization of all time.. But i LOVE the leave concept... bringing in elements of video games and aesthetics to promote green driving habits. Who would want a constant reminder of the fuel they are guzzling with dead plants on their dashboard, versus striving to make them healthy. I think it has interesting implications for how information displays can affect more subtle human behaviors.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 6:51 AM

The layout is great: battery vs. fuel. A Tufte style culling of the needless beveled borders and background colors would benefit the design. Judicious use of whitespace and subtle lines should be enough to divide the sections. Honestly do we want drivers to be marveling at how pretty the dashboard is, or rapidly absorbing the information relevant to driving? I agree with Eric that the plans only obscure the information and provide no sense of history; a little graph is simple and more appropriate.

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 12:57 PM
Andrew Nutter-Upham

Wouldn't there be an issue of boredom? For instance driving days after days with healthy leaves on the dashboard? I would like to test how these leaves would starve, for instance. Maybe even searching for hidden Easter eggs?

Wed 14 Jan 2009 at 4:15 PM

The "resurrection" of the ambient display? This implies it ever died! Long live Mark Weiser!

Thu 15 Jan 2009 at 1:37 AM

@Jason: Just curious, but can you show me a mass-use of an ambient display anywhere?

Thu 15 Jan 2009 at 10:28 AM

All I really have to say is finally. I'm really tired of the conventional dashboards. Give me more information about what's going on in my car besides a needle.

Fri 16 Jan 2009 at 8:31 AM

"Cluttered" and "Garish" leap to mind at first glance. And the plant gimmick is intensely annoying. I want information, not propaganda.

Sun 18 Jan 2009 at 10:58 PM
SixDegrees

I agree with Tom Gonzalez. Perhaps leaves are not the correct graphic, but the concept of using basically built in "games" to promote the best/most efficient way of using your car (or any equipment for that matter) is cool. Since the dashboard is basically just a computer display, there's no technical reason why there couldn't be more than one dashboard view. Like the leaves? then leave them. Prefer to see a basic graph instead? Switch views. I'm surprised these types of subtle behavior modifiers haven't found their way into more equipment already, now that I think of it.

Thu 22 Jan 2009 at 12:19 AM
Jens Wegar

Dashboard is a term now being used generally to refer to a web-based technology page on which real time information is collated from various sources in the business. The metaphor of dashboard is adopted here to emphasize the nature of the data being displayed on the page, it is a real-time analysis as to how a business is operating, just like on an automobile dashboard real time information is displayed about the performance of that vehicle. Concept Cars

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