Experts criticize VW Golf user interface

Experts criticize VW Golf user interface

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Automakers should reconsider touchscreen controls for driving-critical functions, evaluation summarizes.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt


When the new Golf VIII was launched, many critics praised what they saw as the minimalist design of its user interface, because Volkswagen had dispensed with many classic switches and instead built the user interface (UX) almost exclusively on touchscreens, swipe gestures and voice control. This user interface reduced distraction and thus increased driving safety, vehicle testers judged. But the devil is in the detail: on closer examination, it turns out that the opposite is true for some functions.

A new UX evaluation from industry advisor Strategy Analytics’ In-vehicle UX (IVX) group has assessed the 2020 VW Golf VIII infotainment system and relevant HMI. The console design is rated as “visually appealing”, while the inclusion of an advanced-for-its-class voice assistant allows flexible input for a wide range of important infotainment-related tasks. But both design features have implications for the UX of key functions in the car and several design flaws were identified within the touchscreen interface.

Overall, the 2020 VW Golf VIII’s infotainment system was ranked solidly in the middle tier of all vehicles evaluated thus far in Strategy Analytics’ proprietary infotainment benchmark algorithm – a ranking system derived by how well a car’s available features correspond to Strategy Analytics’ existing data on consumer interest in advanced infotainment features.

Derek Viita, Senior Analyst, IVX and report author commented, “The elimination of hard key controls in favor of entirely touchscreen-based UX certainly has cost-related benefits, especially for high-volume automakers such as Volkswagen. If a touchscreen can be paired with a powerful voice assistant then it could be argued that the driver would have all the HMI tools they need to safely access the desired entertainment, communication, comfort and navigation functions.”

However, for this to work, the HMI feature set must be sufficient for key in-car use cases and not overwhelming, the voice assistant must be as flexible as possible, and the touchscreen must be well designed, criticizes Viita. While the 2020 Golf VIII somewhat delivers on the first two points, its touchscreen design is lacking. In particular, the expert finds the splitting of radio and media sources between two separate menus “extraordinarily confusin.”

But that’s not all: The swipe gesture, Viita contines, is “over-used” to hide redundant menu designs and climate controls are hidden in non-persistent menus.”

Adds Chris Schreiner, Director IVX , “VW’s take on screen-based infotainment for the 2020 Golf VIII goes ‘all in.’ But hiding essential features like climate controls and windscreen defoggers in non-persistent menus, or placing them at a nontraditional location in the cockpit, is a questionable design choice: at worst it compromises safety while driving. Given that a German court recently ruled that touchscreen-based wiper controls are a ‘distracting electronic device,’ Western automakers should reconsider designs that involve touchscreen controls for driving-critical functions. Form should not be valued over function.”

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