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Honda Air Conditioning Controls, UX Fail

July 13, 2013

I see examples of good and bad UX everywhere, but none was more obvious than when we recently bought a new Honda van. The air conditioning controls in the center console are confusing, especially when you’re driving. A clear UX fail. In this image, the blue highlights are the controls for the front of the van (the driver and front passenger). What’s confusing is how these controls are separated by the controls for the rear passengers (highlighted in green). As a driver, I expect the controls for the front of the van to be closer to me. When I reach to adjust the front fan speed up or down, I instinctively reach for the rear fan control. But this brings me to something else confusing! The two controls for adjusting fan speed (same action, different zones) are totally different controls. Highlighted in red, the rear control is a toggle switch while the front control is two separate buttons. Why do we have to different types of controls for the the same thing (adjusting fan speed)?

Honda console UX fail

I can’t know for sure how Honda designed this console, but I can guess: it’s a classic example of designing for aesthetics rather than user experience. You see, the buttons are symmetrical (sort of). There seems to be no other logic behind the ordering of buttons and choice of control type other than to make it look nice. So why are there 6 buttons on the left side and only 4 on the right? I’d like to imagine this is one of those cases where an executive sent down a mandate to add the rear defrost buttons after the panel had already been designed. The designer hadn’t planned on them being there, so he had four nice buttons on each side of the display. Rather than update the UX to reflect the new requirements (extra buttons) he just added them on the left.

It might seem silly, but this sort of scenario happens all the time: A designer has a certain number of buttons/controls he needs to fit in a space. Rather than seriously considering the user’s needs and expectations, he designs them to look pretty. And as long as no one else on the team sits in the driver’s seat, no one realizes just how bad the design is. After all, every button is accounted for and it looks nice, right? Then, during a presentation to executives someone says, “Hey, the rear defrost buttons should be in there too” and with little patience to re-think the design, the buttons are slapped on the existing panel. Project complete.