I recently read an interesting blog post about what all the buttons, knobs and dials do on an F1 steering wheel. With all the rage about easy-to-use interfaces these days, pics of these “interfaces” look like some sort of photoshop joke. However, they’re very real and very useful to the F1 drivers. F1 Fanatic’s blog post lists 22 different functions on a Sauber steering wheel, from shifting gears to “drink bottle” and a speed limiter for the pit lane. I am surprised by how small the knobs are, given that the drivers have to wear gloves for safety, they must have require a fair amount of torque to change to another setting.
It goes to show that the best interfaces are not necessarily the simplest ones. F1 drivers have a job that requires a lot of attention, and their hands must always be on the wheel. So what could be a terrifyingly complicated interface is actually very simple and usable for the right expert.
In contrast, look at this:
That’s an enormous panel of buttons and lights that’s behind the operator in the high-speed TGV. It’s not that useful, even for the expert TGV train operators.