Monday, April 15, 2013

Design changes Behavior

I recently bought a BMW E92 M3 where every bit of user experience is 1000-times better than what I was driving before - a Ford.  It was a great departure from what I was used to.  Everything on the Ford was manual, including the transmission.  There were dials and knobs to tend to controlling the climate, navigation was a Tom-Tom, and switching the lights on were intentional as well as switching on the windshield wipers.

On the BMW, the climate control was automatic (but only when you press the "Auto" button, which I actually keep in manual to keep some semblance of control,) navigation was voice activated (or done through iDrive), telephone can be voice activated, mirrors dim automagically at night, wipers are rain-sensing, car audio volume increases with the speed to compensate for road and wind noise, and the list goes on.

Everything about the BMW was meant to anticipate the user's needs.  And I have two distinct features to talk about here that actually warrants discussion in that it changes the driver's behavior.

The first is the seatbelt "butler".  Since the M3 is a coupe, that meant the seatbelts were located way far back by the B-pillar.  The only way to reach it is to stretch like Inspector Gadget, saying the magic words, "Go-go gadget arms!"  But instead of doing that, the BMW has mechanical arms to hand you the seatbelt so you don't have to reach for them.  But of course, this service has a time expiration.  Because if you don't grab it for about 10 to 20 seconds, the arms retracts back into its hole thus releasing the seatbelt and you have to perform some gymnastics to retrieve it.  Because of this time expiration, instead of tending to the radio to put on tunes for my drive, I have to tend to safety first.  This time event expiration has modified my behavior in essence.  Not too drastic as missiles won't fire if I don't reach for it in time, but my muscles get nicely stretched.

The second feature relates to everyone on the road wondering why the heck do BMW drivers cut people off so often?  Well, non-BMW drivers will now have the answer here.  The lane-changing indicator lever is one where you just push either up or down to activate the blinker for right or left movement (respectively).  When the BMW driver pushes on the lever, the indicators blink three times before it gets canceled.  That means the driver has three seconds to change lanes.  That also means in three seconds, if you're the other driver observing the behavior of the BMW driver changing lanes abruptly, it actually isn't their fault.  It's the design of the blinkers that is dictating the behavior of the BMW driver!

Granted, there are arguments in that the BMW driver could just persistently push the lever and give themselves enough time to make the lane-change, but being in such a nice, plush cockpit where the car does almost everything for you, why bother?  Yes, there is a setting in the iDrive where you can deactivate the three-second blinking and keep it manual, but what fun is that?  Why make me think?

But is that enough motivation to endanger the safety of others?  One might also argue that some BMW drivers probably don't have an IT degree to operate the iDrive and hence cannot be responsible for their non-action to get rid of this three-second blinker.  And what does the BMW driver know?  The design is dictating the user behavior without them knowing about it.

So if you ever think your design decisions have no impact on the user, think again.  Those who are behind the scenes designing products need an utmost ethical stance and responsibility for their actions and decisions.  Without this stance and knowing the consequences of these decisions, whether intended or not, chaos will appear.  Apparently, for those non-BMW drivers, it may already have.