I Re-Designed the Tesla Model S Center Console Interface

If I could have any car in the world, other than a Maybach with a full-time driver making it possible for me to work in the back ;), I’d want a Tesla Model S. I’m not a car person, but I’d like a Tesla S because I love design and gadgets. Tesla S is a beautifully designed, drivable gadget. The green stuff, to me, would just be gravy.

Right in the center of the dashboard, the Tesla Model S has a massive 17-inch haptic touch display that controls lighting, climate, audio, door locks, windows and the panoramic roof. A browser connected via 3G provides access to Web content. It’s also home to GPS navigation. The audio player controlled by the touch screen gives riders access to audio stored in the car’s memory, streaming radio stations over 3G, and audio stored on portables that can be connected via Bluetooth or USB. The car has FOUR USB ports!

Bloggers started posting photos of the Tesla S touchscreen around the time the Steve Jobs bio came out. If you’ve read the bio, you know when Steve Jobs saw a new design, his first response was almost always, “It’s shit!” I think Steve Jobs would say that about the interface on the Tesla S center console. As bloggers were praising the Tesla S interface based on it’s size and coolness level, I was reading the Steve Jobs bio and thinking, “I could design a better looking interface.” This console is more state of the art than any one I’m familiar with, but to my eye, it already looks dated. Now, to be fair, I don’t think they’re done yet, and they may be working on something more polished and coherent as I write this.

One of the worst reasons for doing anything is because you can, and there seems to be a whole lot of “because we can” in this interface design. It’s a high resolution, full-color display and because it can display all that color, it does. That’s a mistake. At the top of the screen is an icon tray that borrows from the design of the Dock on Macs and iDevices. It also seems to be inspired by the shape of classic car design. The icons controlling media, navigation, energy, web, camera, phone and apps are each a different color. There is too much happening and it should be simplified.

It might look better in person, but in the photos, apps don’t flow together. It almost looks like there are three stacked screens rather than one large one. Underneath the App icons is a large space that is sometimes a Web browser, sometimes GPS navigation, the media player and all the other car controls. Other than the Web browser, this section has lots of room for improvement. Navigation elements and colors are inconsistent. Buttons on the media player look kind of cool, but they don’t share the design ideas you see on GPS or lighting controls. The Media player looks clunky and not very luxurious.

At the bottom of the screen is the climate control interface. That looks good and it looks finished. Designers didn’t re-invent the look and feel of physical buttons you’d find on a luxury car.

We know from iOS and Android, we gain a lot more than we lose when we give up physical buttons and knobs in exchange for software limited only by imagination. The design challenge is to use restraint so users can expect a consistent experience between Apps. Apple demonstrates how much consistency makes a difference through the use of objects that look and work the same from one application to the next. Based on what I’ve seen of the Tesla Model S center console, it’s something Tesla might want to think about.

In this conceptual re-design of the interface, I toned down the variety of color and tied the whole screen together so that one application flows into the other without creating a completely different look for each application. If I had more time, I would work on the App icons and the overly colorful display behind the steering wheel. I changed virtual buttons on GPS and the media player so that they look fresh and part of the same device. I also changed the media player to use album art as the background of the player.

I searched for the resolution of the 17-inch display. If what I found was right, it’s 600×1280. If you hit the more button, you can see my interface designed for 600×1280 and a side by side of the Tesla S interface and mine.

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