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Terrible Industrial Design: An Example - Elf M. Sternberg
Terrible Industrial Design: An Example
Really Bad Design What you're seeing here is the console of my car, a Subaru Outback 2014, directly above my left knee. There are two buttons side by side.

The one on the left is called Hill Holder, and it's a lifesaver for Seattle drivers. I have a manual transmission, and on Seattle's hills a manual transmission should be a nightmare, but hill holder makes hills simple: whenever the car is being driven on an upward slope and comes to a complete stop, hill holder automatically applies the brakes, and when I apply the gas it releases the brakes in a smooth transition to driving. It's a freaking miracle of modern science.

The one on the right is the ordinary parking brake. You know, the brake you leave applied whenever you park your car and leave it. It's essential that the button be available for manual cars because hill holder doesn't detect downward slopes, nor slopes too gradual to be problematic.

We have two buttons, side-by-side, down in an obscure, out-of-the-way corner of your dashboard. One of them you press every time you drive your car. The other you should never, ever have to press. The button's only purpose for being there is to deactivate hill-holder should you need to tow the car.

I am now in the habit of having to check, every time I start the car, to make sure I have not accidentally deactivated hill-holder. I should not have to make that check. But I do, because some engineer at Subaru didn't think far enough ahead about this incredibly useful feature.

Current Mood: annoyed annoyed
Current Music: Tangled OST, Realization

7 comments or Leave a comment
nojay From: nojay Date: July 25th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Using the parking brake on a hill is part of British car driver training and it WILL be in the driving test. Allowing the car to roll back even a fraction on pulling away up the hill is an automatic fail of the entire test. Yes it involves juggling the accelerator, clutch and handbrake in a coordinated manoeuvre but if the driver can't manage that they're not allowed out on the the road by themselves.
elfs From: elfs Date: July 25th, 2014 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, and I got very good at that maneuver when I had a hand-controlled parking brake. I don't; I let the computer make those decisions for me, and so far it hasn't failed me. What did fail me is Subaru's design of putting the "deactivate hill-holder" right next to the "park the car" button.
autopope From: autopope Date: July 25th, 2014 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your hand brake is a button? Not a giant lever sitting behind and to one side of the gear stick, that you have to haul on with your biceps?

(I've met American cars with parking brake switches -- on automatics -- and think they're silly. But that a manual transmission would replicate this nonsense ...!)
elfs From: elfs Date: July 25th, 2014 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. A button that requires electricity to work correctly, The 2009 models had both the giant lever and the cybernetic hill-holder; making the "hand brake" a button that activates the hill-holder mechanism would be a logical, cost-saving measure.

Hey, that explains why they're stupidly on the same panel: the engineers just put the buttons together because they go to the same circuit.

gipsieee From: gipsieee Date: July 26th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooh.. thank you for making me finally realize why the foot controlled parking breaks wierd me out. I learned to drive in a manual 626 and had a miata for about 5 years in Seattle. I needed the handbrake and foot controlled parking brake just would not substitute at all.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 3rd, 2014 08:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Not as bad, but annoying: the VW snowflake

We have two VW cars, both recent model years. They have a computer display (a raster of red LEDs) and they display graphic icons for various things.

If the outdoors temperature is close to freezing or below, when you start the car there is a snowflake icon that appears. If the outdoors temperature is well above freezing, no snowflake.

But! If you start driving while the temperature is warm, and the temperature becomes cold, then the computer lights up the snowflake *and* makes an audible alarm noise (sounds like a bell). My immediate reaction is "something really bad just happened because the car needed to sound an alarm". Then I realize it's just the damned snowflake.

The documented reason for the alarm: if the temperature is dropping, maybe you should worry about ice forming on the road.

Here's the problem. The temperature threshold of the snowflake indicator is (per the owner's manual) 39 degrees F. This means that on any day where the temperatures are above 39 but drop below 39, the snowflake bell will ring. That's at least two months out of the year in the Seattle area.

Because of the proximity of the sea water in the Puget Sound, the Seattle area doesn't usually quite get cold enough for ice to form on roads. During the day in winter, it warms up to above 39, and then drops below 39 when night falls. I guess in Germany this doesn't happen much, nor would it happen much in places like Minnesota where winters are *cold*.

If there was an option to disable the bell, I'd do it in a hot second.
elfs From: elfs Date: August 3rd, 2014 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not as bad, but annoying: the VW snowflake

Hah. The Subaru does that too, but only by blinking the dashboard. It's a little disconcerting in a "What the...?" sort of way, but it's better than an alarm.
7 comments or Leave a comment