Home » Which In-Car Features Should Always Have Buttons, Knobs, Or Switches?

Which In-Car Features Should Always Have Buttons, Knobs, Or Switches?

Autopian Asks Buttons
ADVERTISEMENT

It’s not every day (or any day, really) that we feel the need to ask everyone to be civil in advance because we’re about drop a hot take on a contentious topic, but today’s Autopian Asks is a little bit different. We’re courting controversy by soliciting feedback on a topic that people have strong opinions about. Opinions that can stoke polarization and end friendships – and no, we’re not talking about politics. Let’s talk about buttons.

It used to be that everything in a car was controlled with a button, knob, switch, or slider. Remember those multi-band graphic equalizers from the ’80s, power antenna switches, or even the Ford headlight control that let you set the auto-headlight-off delay right at the switch?

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Well, it’s not the 80s anymore. With the sheer number of gadgets and functions aboard modern cars, a button, knob, or dial for everything isn’t the most practical or user-friendly solution. Some of you might not be convinced by that argument, but I urge you to take a good look at the center stack of the Buick Cascada. Look at all those tightly grouped, same-but-different controls!

Buick Cascada Center Stack

Obviously, stalks still make sense for the indicators and wipers, a physical headlight switch is simply the standard, a hardwired hazard-lights switch is a must for emergencies, and being able to quickly hit the defrost button is wonderful in cold weather. What else should still be buttons, switches, and knobs?

ADVERTISEMENT

My personal requirements are relatively simple. I’ve owned a car without a volume knob, and it wasn’t great, so a volume knob is a must. Additionally, and I can’t believe I’d need to say this, but I’d like every power window to have its own driver-accessible switch. Looking at you, Volkswagen ID.4. I also appreciate physical power-mirror controls and would like an actual finger-depressable home button for the infotainment system. What can I say? I’m a simple man. I’m fine with digital buttons for heated seats so long as they’re top-level, but in modern cars, I just set things up before I have to set off.

So, what physical controls, other than the obvious of a steering wheel, a shifter, and pedals, just make sense for you? Are you one of those people who’s fine without a volume knob, someone who wants their dashboard to look like the cabin of an A380, or somewhere in between?

(Photo credits: Honda, Buick)

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Relatedbar

ADVERTISEMENT

Got a hot tip? Send it to us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
136 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
AceRimmer
AceRimmer
1 month ago

All of them!

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
1 month ago

In two of my three cars, I never touch the volume knob. Volvo V70R has the soft touch rubber coating on the knob, so it’s a little nasty to use. VW Alltrack knob has the power symbol painted onto the knob, so my OCD hates having it pointed anywhere but straight up and down. Honestly, I don’t really miss the knob that much. Steering wheel buttons are good enough.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
1 month ago

Climate controls, audio controls and cruise control would be the bare minimum for me.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

Pretty easy any old school car aspects knobs, any new school assets knobs. Anything requiring no visual needs knobs. Anything else crappy computer shit.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

Basically anything I might need to adjust while in the act of driving. So that’s gonna be climate controls and audio at the very least.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  Myk El

So everything? Otherwise just let passenger adjust.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I rarely have a passenger, so there are things driver needs to be able to adjust when in motion. To clarify, I won’t need to pair a device over bluetooth when moving, so that can be in a menu. I probably don’t need to save a seat position memory when moving. And to correct myself, advanced audio controls like balance, fade, etc., don’t/shouldn’t need adjustment while moving. Reset trip meter, fuel economy and similar tracking items I reset after every fill-up, doesn’t need to be something I’m fussing with when moving. Those are all functions my current DD has.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
1 month ago

Climate controls should definitely be physical buttons/knobs; when I’m driving through a storm and decide I need a little more A/C, I don’t need to be pawing at a touchscreen.

In a vehicle with a touchscreen, I really don’t care about dashboard controls for the stereo, as long as the steering wheel has a suitable amount of buttons (volume, station change, phone controls).

Andy the Swede
Andy the Swede
1 month ago

This is my take on this:

Driving is your primary task. This means that everything else that you do while driving should be considered a secondary task. Some secondary tasks are more critical or commonly performed than other and thus require to be extra easy to see, reach or operate blindly. These need to be buttons, knobs or switches.

Then you have other things such as some infotainment features. These you may design with a touch screen. However, if the features are still do be performed while driving, they are to be considered as secondary tasks, tasks that are to be performed at a few glances with minimal visual distraction. This means that you can’t hide stuff several layers down in menus (something that so many manufacturers currently do).

Jakob Johansen
Jakob Johansen
1 month ago

GOTO google image search and type in “renault volume control”.

This little gem, hidden behind the wheel, 3 o’clock position , controls everything related to calls, volume, channel, track, input etc.

My dream setup:
Tesla model 3 setup +
-Renault volume control
-Indicator stalk
-Wiper stalk
-Forward-Stop-Reverse, buttons
-Cruise control buttons on steering wheel (could be a setup like the renault control, but in 9 o’clock)
-Classic Mercedes seat controls.

Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
1 month ago

Air and noise.

But we talk about less buttons, but far out how many buttons do steering wheels have these days! Honestly an f1 car have less than some!

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
1 month ago

Question for the modern car owners here. Aren’t there voice controls for everything now? I’d like to be Picard going “Computer, set AC to 70 degrees.”

“Computer I meant 70 degrees Fahrenheit”

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
1 month ago

All of them?

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
1 month ago

Stupid edit time limit, had to repost

All of them? That Buick and most Audis I’ve been in have way too many, though.

So more seriously I think we need less functionality in the car, not more. This reduces the number of actuators of any kind (knobs, widgets on the touch screen, etc).

Hard requirements for physical controls:

Car controls: Blinker stalk, headlight stalk, horn, shift paddles or lever, wiper controls including washer, parking brake, hazard switch, interior lights, interior mirror adjustment
Comfort and car body stuff: temp, ac vs not vs heater, air recirculate vs outside air, vent position and opening size, defrost dedicated window switches, door locks, door handles, glove box, volume

Negotiable:

Advanced seat adjustments. The main ones like angle and fore-aft need to be physical and reachable while you’re in the sitting position. But others like heat, cooling, ventilation, lumbar support, etc can be digital.

Digital is ok or even best:

Navigation (duh), infotainment except volume, uh, that’s it.

Stuff i never use so idgaf:

Suspension and ride height adjustments, sport/comfort mode switch, cruise control (wtf is that even for), most ADAS,

Also screw digital gauges. They’re grainy and trying (failing) to replicate physical gauges. They’re digital. Why merely replicate the physical world instead of doing something that takes advantage of the medium’s capabilities? It’s like those catalog websites where you get an animation when you flip pages and it’s slow and stupid and irritating AF. Make them skinnable, like watch faces. Have a Citroen bubble speedometer, or a ’60s Plymouth horizontal gauge. Shit, sell gauge cluster skins and lighting themes for $4.99 a month. Don’t just make ugly ass round dials with fake ass needles.

Last edited 1 month ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Tom Trutna
Tom Trutna
1 month ago

so. what functions have been made better by removing the physical controls?

Amy Andersen
Amy Andersen
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Trutna

Navigation for sure. Typing in addresses without a touch keyboard is a nightmare no matter how clever you get with your text input

Bill Garcia
Bill Garcia
1 month ago
Reply to  Amy Andersen

Any speech recognition tech will help once it finally works well – and we’re far from there. I know from my work that current tech is a long way from working in day-to-day conditions for most people. Accents, pronunciation, background noise, etc. destroy accuracy to the point of uselessness.

136
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x