Every year, Ferrari fields a team in the Formula One championship, and dumps around $400 million into developing and racing the car. So you’d think that the steering wheel–perhaps the car’s most crucial point of contact, where a human turns all that R&D into championship trophies–would be a masterpiece of interface design. And you would be wrong. But don’t worry, there’s probably a switch or knob on the Ferrari F10 steering wheel that lets you correct your thinking.
It’s a comedically disjointed, confusing mess. It seems like to understand this thing, you’d have to have the superhuman visual acuity of dragonfly, the IQ of a theoretical physicist, and the creative maturity of a 10-year-old with a box of crayons and lots of free time. Frankly, it’s amazing that the drivers don’t crash these things twice every lap.
Here’s a video of one of the engineers explaining all the know-how that goes into this monstrosity:
The guy is talking about how this season, Formula One no longer has KERS–that is, the regenerative braking systems that provide an added power boost, and made driving more complex. And so the steering wheel has been greatly “simplified” at the behest of the driver–in this case, Filipe Massa, Ferrari’s number two driver. Massa, interface designer that he is, ordered up a slew of handy features like a drink button. This is like what happens when Homer Simpson designs a car.
Granted, Formula One drivers would rather not take their hands off the steering wheel, but surely there’s a better solution. What if you accidentally pushed the button to lower the front flaps, when all you wanted to do was to was request a cherry Slurpee? And what if you accidentally set the fuel mix to eight rather than ten–which would be easy to do since there’s thirteen different settings.
In a sport where one second can be the difference between finishing first and 10th, you can’t afford to be pushing buttons by accident. And this steering wheel basically invites that.
Here’s a tip, guys: Hire Ideo, or Frog, or Smart Design. Pay them a million bucks. That’s a rounding error for you. Have them create the most elegant interface they’ve ever designed. And watch the championships roll in. Lord knows its been a while since you were winning.