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Oobject has a killer gallery up that shows 16 Formula 1 cars’ control schemes. (Everything but the pedals, anyway.) This isn’t too difficult to show because they cram all of the controls, and often times the actual information display, on the wheel itself.

They have an interesting take on this phenomenon: That all the F-1 teams reached this very similar layout independently, and that they’ve all independently made the same mistake…

The complexity is ubiquitous, all 11 Formula 1 teams produce cars with more or less the same multi button design allowing adjustment and tweaks of traction and aerodynamics from the wheel itself. Unlike a road car, space and focus constraints mean that the entire dashboard is on the steering wheel. This is something that will no doubt be copied, unnecessarily, in consumer cars in future, but would that be a UI improvement?

Given that all 11 F1 teams have converged on a remarkably similar UI, independently, you would think that dashboard steering wheel style was a rational design, however its complexity possibly caused Lewis Hamilton the 2007 F1 championship, when he accidentally pressed the neutral button (top left of the 2007 McLaren Mercedes wheel).

We have gathered together as many of the modern style wheel designs that we could find and put a date to, to demonstrate the UI pattern. What is clear is that there is no clear accentuation of features (color, size) by how often the are used, merely by position. Even if drivers like Hamilton are experts and fully familiar with the UI, there is a tiny percentage chance of error. Our guess is that this trend in car UI would be a mistake if it filters through to everyday cars, and that F1 cars will revert to a more simple UI over time.

I think they’re off-base, here. The likely-hood of these teams all making the same progressive mistake(s) independently of each other is almost nil. It’s much more likely that the teams have either made a mistake by copying each other’s control schemes or that they’ve weighed the odds of mistaken button-presses against having to take fractionally more focus away from the road (say to look down and to the left at a warning light) and decided the former was less risky.

Either way, this is a study in user interface design that’s not to be missed. Read the full article and check out the excellent gallery over at Oobject.com.

BONUS: I’ll leave you with this Renault F1 driver putting one of these UI’s through it’s paces via cockpit camera…

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