I have accepted that center-mounted displays screens in cars, touch or otherwise, are not going anywhere. But why do so many of them look like they've just been tacked on as an afterthought? It looks terrible.
While touring the cars on display at the New York Auto Show, I was struck by how many of them get the integration of a screen into the dash right and how many of them get it wrong. If the screen is going to be a part of the car, shouldn't it be integrated seamlessly into the design of the dash, rather than plastered on like a cheap Garmin you bought at Walmart?
I think that interior design is, in some ways, a lot trickier than exterior design. You have so many more balls to juggle there, like the available parts, ergonomic issues, components that are required by law, and you have to make all of it work in a package that is both comfortable and usable for most people. It's not an easy thing to do.
Still, I'm shocked by the number of cars lately that have the screen just stuck on the dash. It's as if their interiors were designed a decade ago and put into the pipeline before screens became as ubiquitous as they are today, and so designers had to scramble to get them on there somewhere, anywhere, just get the damn screen on the dash so we can all go home, Phil!
There's a couple chief offenders here: Mazda, Mercedes and BMW and all of them make generally excellent cars that are currently pretty attractive otherwise, so this design foible certainly doesn't ruin their products in any way, but I feel like they could be done better. Look at that Mazda3 above. Does that screen look good to you? Why can't it be integrated into the dash itself somehow?
Here's one from BMW. Again, it's just kind of... there. Like they did the rest of the dash and didn't know where to put the screen.
And here's the BMW i3! The city car of the future, and they couldn't figure out where to put the screen. Granted, I think it looks a little better here since it's kind of "floating" off the dash, and it fits a little better with the rest of the interior than on other cars, but still.
I'll give Audi some points in this department. Here's the inside of the new Audi A3. As you can see, the nav screen goes away when you don't want it, retreating into a little slot in the dash. A lot of them seem to do that now. When I was driving a Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, people kept asking if the screen shrunk into the dash, and it doesn't. Sad face. That's kind of a neat party trick.
It's not just the Germans either. Remember the stunning Cadillac Elmiraj concept? It has one of those too! Look how attractive that isn't. At least it can as well retract, which is good.
Maybe I'm being too nitpicky here. Maybe I don't know anything about car design. Hell, I'd rather have a car with a good set of buttons and a workable radio than a screen and an infotainment system, but that's not the way things are going.
In the meantime, car designers, I'll just go on record as saying that I prefer my screen — if I must have one — integrated artfully into the dash. Better luck next time, Phil.
Photos credit Brian Williams