A truck’s dashboard is essentially where the vehicle and driver meet. It is where the two interact the most, and its design is central to the driver experience. It should enable the driver to operate as safely and efficiently as possible by ensuring information is readily accessible and functions are easy to operate.
The first step in redesigning the latest Volvo Trucks’ dashboard was to identify which key elements were most commonly used. After extensive research, involving surveys and interviews with truck drivers, the design team was surprised by some of the results.
“We learned that many of the gauges on a dashboard are just there out of tradition – no one had ever questioned the need for them before,” says Carin Larsson, Senior Interaction Specialist, Product Design, Volvo Group Trucks Technology. “But that is one of the key things about being a designer. You constantly have to question things and know where the boundaries are because only then can you create something better.”
Consequently, many of the smaller gauges have been removed and replaced with digital displays. Then the two main gauges, speed and revs – which are traditionally located side-by-side – have been merged into one centralised display. The result is a cleaner, less cluttered display panel and a unique look.
“Space is very important because it gives calmness and clarity,” says Larsson. “Sometimes a dashboard can have so many different lights and displays, it looks like a Christmas tree. It gets quite messy and distracting for the driver. But by simplifying the design, it can become more functional.”
The same ethos has also been applied to the rest of the dashboard, with large clearly-marked controls, arranged in a layout that makes each function easy to locate. The objective is to ensure drivers can remain focused on the road, and don’t have to search for gauges or controls. It is also important that the whole environment inside the cab works together as one unified interior, as this is how it will be experienced by the driver.
It is clear that the point of human interaction is the central element to the design work being carried out by Carin Larsson and the team at Volvo Group Trucks Technology. “As interaction designers, we are involved in the design process from the very start, in order to ensure there is some common sense and logic behind where all the different features go,” adds Carin Larsson. “In some companies, the hardware design is done first and then handed over to the interaction team who then must adapt. This results in the final product having poor interaction and compromised functionality.”
As a designer, you have to question and challenge everything. Only then can you do something different and create something better.
In addition to being practical and functional, the uncluttered dashboard also enhances the typically Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic of the truck, which is also a key consideration for the designers. Ideally, a cab’s interior should be so unique and distinctive that one knows they are driving a Volvo truck as soon as they sit behind the wheel.
“Volvo is a premium brand, so the design should reflect that. The feedback we get from customers is that they can sense the quality when they step inside the cab – so the dashboard does send an important message.”
Title: Senior Interaction Specialist, Product Design, Volvo Group Trucks Technology
Years at Volvo: 11.
Workplace: The European design studio at Volvo Group Trucks Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.