Americans Don't Know What's Best When It Comes To Buttons

For much of the automobile's existence, American tastes have dominated what's new in car design and ergonomics. Where do you think the prominence of cupholders come from? Makes sense, since we were long the biggest new car market. But it also extends to things like placement of window and cruise control switches.

Sometimes we don't make the best decisions, though.

In his review of the BMW 135is, Jason Cammisa of Road and Track said something that struck me oddly hard: all future BMWs are ditching the stalk-mounted cruise control switches for steering wheel buttons. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf MK7 also dispenses of this use feature. This disappearing switch placement struck me pretty hard because I think it's one of the most useful implementations of a control – although one I rarely use, admittedly.


Photo: BMW

The stalk is all controlled all by touch. There's no looking at buttons down on the steering wheel. And yet it's slammed by people who fill out Consumer Reports or J.D. Power surveys because of "cryptic labels" or "lack of access" or crap like that. You know, labels that will be no bigger on those steering wheel buttons you'll inevitably hit while turning or turning up the radio.

Most cars in America are dominated by door-mounted window switches, but centrally-mounted ones are better. Really! I'm trying to think of a car you can buy new that has centrally mounted window controls. There are the normally sized Minis, the Fiat 500 and… well, beyond that, I'm at a loss.

Well into the 2000s, there were mainstream cars like Saturns, Pontiacs, BMWs and Mercedes that put such often-used controls in a totally logical place that was near your right hand. But with subsequent redesigns, these and other switches migrated to the doors or other regions in the car. Places usually less convenient.


It's not just me having some fixation with window switches. The startup sequence in my Saab has to be one of the best ever. The seatbelt anchor is in between the seats, and so is the key, then the window switches and then the handbrake. Hell, even the sunroof and door locks switches are down there. It's completely logical. Best of all, these things can easily be controlled by your right hand, leaving your left hand on the wheel. You know, for driving.


There must be some kind of left-handed plot to put window and lock switches on the doors. There's no other explanation.


I'm in the minority here, but I'm also right. Focus groups gave designers the backing to move controls to different locations to free up more space for things that have nothing to do with ease of use, like making more center console storage for laptops or random dash cubbies. If anything, it's just made cars less user-friendly.

Can we start a Save the Stalk-Mounted Cruise Control campaign? I'm sure the T-shirt will be great.


Photo: Flickr/Podknox

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