• JP Taxman

What makes the Lincoln steering wheel design amazing?

A captain and his/her command center

Roger, we have lift off. The ship takes off into space and the captain checks the controls to make sure everything is fit and ready. Speed nominal, no engine failure, music volume at the correct level, and the course is set correctly. 


Every captain needs the right cockpit to steer their ship, and the better the cockpit, the better the ride. Lincoln clearly gets that because they have designed one of the best steering wheels on the market. It’s intuitive, functional, and looks riveting. Let’s take a look at all the things they got right when designing this high-end luxury steering wheel. 




When turning right, you should go right

I think we can all agree that if you turn your steering wheel right and you go left, there’s something significantly wrong. A steering wheel is simple and straight forward, a circle that you put your hands on and pull one way which moves the car in that direction. So shouldn’t the controls on the steering wheel that operate the rest of the amazing features in the car be just as straight forward? 


This is what we call ‘intuitiveness.’ It’s a big sexy word that user experience designers love to throw around, it basically means if you have a mental model of doing something, and expect a certain result to happen when you do that thing, then that thing should be done and not frustrate you when the thing does something else unexpectedly. 


I know, a convoluted way of explaining it but here’s an example. Lincoln did a phenomenal job designing their volume and forward/back buttons. Just like steering the car, when you press up the volume goes up, press down, the volume goes down, press right, then the next track is played. You could remove the labels and you could use your intuition to assume that’s what those actions are, obviously as long as you knew that was a knob for the music. People already assume that pressing up makes the volume go up and pressing right plays the next track, that’s the mental model, it’s how almost every music player works, which inevitably leads to the controls being intuitive.


The only issue with this is that there is no play/pause button which could easily be triggered by pressing the joystick in. If you’re reading this Lincoln, a note for future car designs. 



All you need

I’m also impressed with how Lincoln put (almost) everything you need access to on the steering wheel. I haven’t seen many car companies make the navigation, settings, phone, and, music access buttons on the steering wheel, those are typically on the dash or center console.  


If you look at the right of the wheel, up is navigation, right is the phone, left is music, and down is settings. Keeping people from having their hands leave the steering wheel, as much as possible, is a much safer design. The solution they used is phenomenal too, instead of making it look cluttered with 4 buttons they just made one joystick that can go in all directions, pure brilliance.



Access Your Robot Slave

Lincoln clearly considered how everyone’s phone possesses the worlds knowledge and that they constantly need directions or a phone number from their voice assistant. To continue their great user experience, they separated the voice assistant button and put it right where your hand sits (most of the time). So you can just move your thumb an inch to get help remembering who that one actor was in that one movie.




Let the car drive for you

Cruise control buttons can be confusing at first. It took me 4 months to figure mine out on my BMW, with this steering wheel it wasn’t much different until I found the magic button. 


In the middle of the steering wheel, there’s a button to the left of the volume joystick. When you press that it turns on the cruise control options which happens to be one of the best I have ever used. Instead of making buttons on the front, they put them on the back so you don’t have to use your thumbs in an awkward way. 


This is brilliant for two reasons 1) it prevents you from confusing cruise control with the rest of the button selection on the steering wheel 2) your hands can stay in a natural position when adjusting speed or the autopilot spacing between cars. The buttons are similar to steering wheel shifters, they are little paddles you can just flick to engage whatever option you choose. A quite remarkable solution. 


When cruise control is off, the panel looks black and blends in with the steering wheel, but when it’s on the words light up letting you know it’s engaged, so smart, but it was confusing to me before I figured that feature out. 


So now you can press buttons and be just like the astronauts that were delivered via autopilot to the ISS on a SpaceX drone ship, fun right?



Application

So how do you apply these learnings to your home? What can be learned from the designers at Lincoln?


For starters, keep important bits separate. It’s much easier for your brain to understand what to access when similar items are grouped and separate from other groups, just like how the audio joystick was separate from the settings and selection joystick, as well as how they separated the voice assistant buttons from the rest of the steering wheel and gave it it’s own area. It’s often better to really separate that one thing you use more than others and access 80% of the time, like a single spatula or maybe a drill.


Think about ease of use. If you are using something regularly really take the extra time to consider how it’s being used and what you can do to eliminate any friction from using it. Just like how Lincoln made the cruise control options effortless to access. It’s something that is used frequently and needs to be extremely easy to do.


Fly away space cowboy

Time to get strapped in and reach for the stars space cowboy. The world is out there waiting for you to explore it with ease and comfort. The tools you use will impact your adventure significantly so seriously consider selecting the best options. 


Grab the wheel, hold on tight, and get ready for a while ride, the universe is waiting for you.



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