I assumed the headline was tongue-in-cheek link bait. Wired would know better than to publish something so mind-numbingly stupid. “Car Tech Isn’t Failing. Owners and Infotainment Interfaces Are”. That has to be a joke, right? What’s the date on this article? No, it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke, and it’s not from 1996.
The gist of the article is that computer systems in cars have become very reliable—very few software bugs are reported. This apparently means, then, that any problems drivers have using the infotainment systems are due to their own stupidity. It’s the user’s fault.
Here are a few quotes from the article that blew my head gasket:
Reynier [owner of a small interactive design agency] admits that “it’s definitely user error. I never have the idea that something is broken.”
While investigating whether the current explosion of automotive technology will cause owners of a [sic] late-model cars to visit a shop more often, everyone we spoke with agreed that he [sic] biggest failure with in-car technology has little to do with vehicle systems and more to do with owners.
“The hardware itself is really pretty bulletproof,” Kato adds. “It’s very robust and reliable. Occasionally we’ll get a bad hard drive or a bad screen. We are having challenges, but it has less to do with the components of the vehicle and more with dealing with customers on how to properly pair their phones.”
And what is the solution to this problem? Is it to improve the usability of the user interfaces? Is it to make sure that the software is not becoming a distraction to the driver, giving them very clear choices that require little thought and minimal attention? No, apparently the solution is to educate drivers on the correct way to use the software. They’re stupid, remember?
To address this problem, luxury brands like Cadillac, Lexus and BMW are staffing dealerships with dedicated tech support specialists, and even everyman automaker Chevy recently doubled its “connected customer specialist” staff stationed around the country from 25 to 50.
Here’s a better idea: automobile manufacturers should pull their heads out of their gas tanks and, instead of doubling their support staffs, hire interaction designers to improve their software. Address the root of the problem, rather than the symptoms. But I wouldn’t recommend hiring Reynier’s firm.
And while I’m at it, here’s some free advice for Wired. Hire a proofreader, and have Doug Newcomb read some articles on Co.Design or Boxes and Arrows.
Credit: Dan Saffer get’s the blame for initiating this tirade.