This talk was given for Kiska, on the main Get Inspired stage at Ars Electronica 2018
Designing for 250kph
One of the most dangerous places in the world today are the roads.
And the fastest you can ride on these roads is on the German autobahn.
You are most likely familiar with the current trend inside cars to include expansive, interactive touchscreens. But I’d like to show you a glimpse of a very different sort of interface challenge.
Motorbikes are the least autonomous vehicles in the world. Riders buy them for the joy and pride of fighting to keep the beast under control. Think of them as autonomous level minus 1, a vehicle working just a little against the rider’s intentions.
Consider a typical riding scenario out on the open roads. Your hands grip the handlebars for balance and throttle control. Touchscreens are useless and voice control is far too slow. Plus the screen is dirty, there is some glare from reflecting sunlight, and from inside your helmet your eyes must rapidly re-focus from the road ahead to the screen right in front of you.
You have only a fraction of a second to read the information you need from the display.
In a car it doesn't matter where or how you're driving - the interface presents all possible interactions and settings to you at all times. But on a bike we don’t have this option - this just won’t work!
At extreme speeds, every extra icon, menu option or pixel will increase the cognitive load on the rider. With a very limited display size with which to keep people safe, the design of the interfaces for these bikes must take a radically different approach.
Our key insight at Kiska has been to tie the design of the interface intimately to the context of use. Traditional automotive interfaces, and indeed most apps, craft and optimise a single, perfect menu structure and then say “here you are”.
On a bike we do the opposite.
Context driven design
We start by observing every possible riding scenario to determine the key interactions that will be relevant and meaningful at any given point. We then design the elements of the interface to scale and adapt immediately to changes between these scenarios - sudden braking or acceleration for example. In effect, we design the interface hundreds of time, presenting just the single best configuration to the rider exactly when they need it.
Don’t think of this as just copying some minimalistic design trend. Building interfaces for these sorts of situations is only possible when the design is directly driven by the context in which it will be used. After all, at 250kph, nobody ever wonders if their heated seat is turned on, but everyone should know their speed.
First published on 6th September 2018