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HUD design should focus on giving info, not fun

Posted: 02 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HUD  automotive design  infotainment 

As one of the more nascent technologies to arrive in the automotive space, head-up displays (HUDs) show a lot of potential. However, automotive designers should be conscious not to 'over-feature' this promising technology.

What began in military aircraft and has long been confined to sports cars and luxury vehicles is now making its appearance in the mass market. The HUD, is a rapidly emerging automotive technology, and that is a great thing. The trick will be to avoid overdoing it.

There are a variety of HUD concepts out on the road right now. On the higher end, you'll find this technology in cars such as the BMW 7 series, Cadillac CTS, 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and Lexus RX 350. In the more moderately-priced vehicle category, HUDs are now available in the Mazda3 and Hyundai Sonata. As technology improves and costs decrease, I suspect that the HUD will become a new standard across the board.

Car tech junkies can't help but get excited about the increasing availability of HUDs. Without even a glance at the information cluster, drivers can get all sorts of information such as speed, vehicle status, light status, lane departure information and warnings. Driving directions are overlaid atop the road with a compass to indicate which direction the car is driving. You can make and receive calls or texts, get social media notifications, and even tweet without having to look away from the windshield.

All of this information and all of these capabilities are exactly what one would expect a connected vehicle to have. In fact, many of these features would show up on any wish list for a new infotainment system.

The exceptional HUD

The HUD is a very unique scenario, however, far different than the infotainment system. The HUD sits directly in the line of sight of the driver. And therein lies the issue.

Automakers want to win the HUD market by making their HUD as sexy as they can. As with all new technologies, there is a tendency here to over-design. The temptation to fill the windshield with every bell and whistle available is real.

But making too much information available all at once is a big problem. An HUD can quickly get graffiti-like, which certainly doesn't jibe with the elegant design that higher end vehicles and their more moderately price counterparts strive to achieve. Beyond crossing that fine line from gorgeous to gaudy, adding too much information onto a HUD in one shot will make your HUD extremely unsafe.

The whole point of the HUD is to display necessary data from instruments so that a driver need not remove his eyes from the windshield to understand critical vehicle status. The HUD is intended to decrease user distraction. Making too much data available on the windshield at one time will inevitably distract the driver and sidetrack him from his sole purpose, driving. HUDs therefore must be designed first and foremost to inform, not entertain.

HUD design presents a big challenge, as does the design of any mission-critical display. That challenge is to serve up only the information that is necessary at any given moment while making it easy for drivers to access auxiliary information. The driver's attention shouldn't be diverted from the road ahead for more than just a second at a time. Therefore, it's paramount that the HUD layout and design be as straightforward as possible.

Simple is safe. It can be sexy, too.

- Michael Juran

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