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August 02, 2009

My Beemer's Bewildering Cockpit

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Some views of the options that my rental Beemer's steering wheel and stalks present:


What an excess of bewildering-icon riches, eh? I suspect that somewhere in that thicket of clickers is a button that will take care of paying my electricity bill, and another that will set my DVR to record "American Idol." But which is which?

Hey: Of the pictured absurdly-illegible icons, which is your favorite? I'm still trying to choose between (top pic) the "P" that appears to be shouting and (bottom pic) the sorta-clock that seems to be stuck at 11:30.

Needless to say: After three weeks of using the car, I'm still iffy where basic turn-signaling and windshield-wiping go. My fault? Or BMW's?



posted by Michael at August 2, 2009


The one to worry about is "Invade Poland".

Posted by: dearieme on August 2, 2009 6:22 PM

And what about the iDrive control knob on the 'tween-seats console? From what I read, early versions (and perhaps later ones too) drove many BMW drivers nutZ -- at first, anyway.

Nice to see that you've been (forcibly) weaned from pre-2008 vintage Ford Tauruses. It's never too late to become a car freak.

Oh, and may I assume that you are a polite, caring BMW driver and not one of those road-owning BMW pilots that I encountered many times in France a couple of months ago? Good. I thought so.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 2, 2009 6:44 PM

BMW has always suffered from the classic ailment of over-instrumentation. It takes a long time to settle into a Beemer. Generally, it's worth the wait.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 2, 2009 9:59 PM

It's BMW's fault. BMW has always been the poor man's Mercedes. The mystery now is why, now that they are at comparable price points, anyone who can afford a Benz would drive a Beamer?

Posted by: vanya on August 3, 2009 8:14 AM

I like the button with the face in profile and symbolic — what? Air? Speech? — emerging from it. Can this be programmed for voice recognition to mute the sound from the radio of any chosen celebrity or politician?

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 3, 2009 8:52 AM

I love the bottom picture with the OFF with an arrow above AND below it. Huh? Not only does it point you in both directions with no direction for ON, what is OFF (or ON) in the first place? The up arrow points to another set of arrows, one UP and one DOWN with a PLUS next to the UP and and a minus next to the DOWN (thanks for that!), but it doesn't even look like the device is pressable, pullable, tweakable or in any way alterable short of pulling it out by the roots. My guess is you push down or pull up on the thing as a whole, but who knows?

Why BMW doesn't put more effort into Human Factors engineering, I don't know. And what on earth is that wedge thing supposed to do? It's got an icon of a gauge with the needle at about 11 and ANOTHER arrow pointing to the gauge needle. And that icon is parked on a chunky wedgy thing that you...what? Rub and hope a genie appears telling you how to work the fricking car?

Oy. And here I was, thinking we had actually made some advances in usability in industrial design.

Me soooooo wrong.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 3, 2009 9:21 AM

Allegedly, at least, BMW's attract chicks like no other car. BMW = Brings Me Women.

Posted by: Peter on August 3, 2009 10:39 AM

Icons, don't get me started. Marketing people like them, basically. That's why we use them.

It's very hard to make an icon that has an unequivocal meaning. They were originally intended as a mnemonic device, which works in the context of a computer desktop for the most part. But then, you see the icon as you install the program so know it in advance in most cases.

Take a look at this picture if an Airbus cockpit: (it's huge BTW, you'll probably want to open it in a new window)

Not an icon in sight! Lots of acronyms or abbreviations, but the only graphics are arrows and similar indicators. I think Airbus knows what they're doing as far as usability goes.

But, that panel does not look sexy, futuristic and appealing. Hence the icons on your BMW & websites. It really gets hilarious when the marketing bots suggest you put a label with the icon so people will understand it! "So why do we need the icon...?" It's funny the first 4000 times anyway.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 3, 2009 1:51 PM

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