Switch Ergionomics

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Switch Ergonomics

Sir,

May I impose on some of your space to do my “voice-in-the-wildncrness” act on the subject of switches its cars? To establish credentials, I have an E-Type coupe, 1967 model, and a new Fiat 127, for which I have just swapped a Lotus Elan Plus 2 of 1968 vintage. The Fiat has, in common with most new designs these days, three small plastic liquorice sticks poking out of its steering column, plus a switch on the dashboard, to operate lights, wipers, and indicators. The Jaguar has three controls for the same purpose, two switches and a steering column lever, as had the Elan. The Jag has its switches laid out symmetrically, in two groups of three either side of another

group of three, with the light switch centrally above. The Elan had switches dotted about all over the dash, with different heads and pictures according to function. I cannot remember which did what, in spite of driving the car for four years. There is now constant criticism, at least in the non-technical press, Of any car which does not

have liquorice sticks, and I understand even the new Jaguar coupe is going to conform. Please, join me in condemning this fashion, for fashion n surely is, before the roads are full of drivers signalling with their wipers, and turning all their lights off when it begins to rain in the dark! After ail, even a modest pianist does not have too much trouble hitting the right note, even without looking, and he has 88 almost identical keys to contend with, While I type this letter, I do not need 46 different shapes to identify the keys, and the plain simple English lettering is instantly recognisable, at least to those of us that speak the language.

On the Jaguar, I have no trouble at all selecting the right switch without looking, with my left hand, while holding a cigarette with my right. On the Elan, I could never remember where the switches were, and had to strain to read the pale printed legend or interpret the picture almost every time. On the Fiat, there is nothing to read, and no picture, and it is really a matter of guess and hope, or pull them all in turn. It also has a little green light to tell you when your sidelights are on, in case you forget to cancel both the dash switch and the steering column lever—On a Renault I hired in Spain recently, you had to twist the column lever, as well as push and pull it, and I believe bashing it on the end may have worked the horn, although I cannot be sure. On a Fiat 125S I hired in Italy, I never did find the windscreen washers, and I did about too miles on an autostrada before I discovered that the reason the wipers only worked spasmodically was not an electrical fault, but that there was another position on the liquorice stick for continuous operation. (I discovered this while trying to signal a right turn off the autostrada.)

One meets the same mentality among designers of road signs, which now seldom have any wording, merely one of about thirty different symbols or patterns. What does a black arrow pointing up, and a white arrow pointing down, on a red background, actually mean? Or is it a red arrow on a black ground, with a black umbrella on a white arrow?

Most of us who drive cars can read English, and can even translate the odd foreign language with the aid of a dictionary. Why the hell should we have to refer to the instruction book to find out what a picture means, or what a plastic stick does? Or to the Highway Code to see whether the car which has just hit us actually has priority or not? The trend is more and more towards swapping cars every year or every 25,000 miles, and to hiring cars for short periods. I doubt if any of the accessories will get used except by accident.

Just one more comment. There is much talk about head-up displays for cars, and I gather Smiths already have a workable system. When designers have for years done their best to get rid of reflections in the windscreen, can you imagine anything more stupid than to put them there deliberately?

C:addington Common. D. R. Kelsey.

.4r, interesting letter but the only abbreviation I dislike more than Jag is Bent. E.D.