A SAFER OPTION
Messing with any touchscreen in the car, whether it’s a dashboard or a phone, requires us to take our eyes off the road. That’s because each control is identifiable by sight only.
Tactile driver controls let the driver identify each control by touch. They don’t move around either, so muscle memory kicks in to help the driver find the volume knob without looking for it. This helps keep your attention focused on the road.
CONFIDENCE IN THE CONTROL
Most of us have experienced double- and triple-checking to make sure we’re muted on a zoom call. Most of us have occasionally forgotten to turn it back on again when it’s our turn to talk.
With a touchscreen, you have to visually check that you’ve successfully activated a control. Tactile controls add two more layers of feedback: you can feel when a button has been depressed and you can often hear it ‘click’. Furthermore, a real, three-dimensional button tends to be more visually prominent than a simulated one. Tactile controls help grant you the peace of mind that the device has registered your input.
EASE OF USE
Another trend is the flattening and minimizing of what physical buttons are left. This shrinking makes products even more difficult to use. Printers tend to be overly difficult to use, no thanks to the complex and somewhat arbitrary controls.
Tactile controls can help the user make sense of what their role in the interaction really is.
When you buy something online, you want to make sure that you do it right. If not, you may overspend or have to deal with an annoying returns process. Online purchases can be slow and tedious, especially on a phone.
Think about buying movie tickets on a phone. You often go back and forth between movie times to check for available seats, the seat the selection icons are pretty hard to select, and then you usually have to fill out a page of payment details.
Now think about the complex-looking control boards in airplane cockpits or mission control rooms. These control boards often have analog buttons to allow multi-step processes to be accomplished quickly and accurately. The ‘click’ of a button provides you with instantaneous feedback that you’ve made an accurate selection.
SIMPLICITY AND INTUITION
Microwaves are classic examples of overly complex interfaces. People typically only use 1 or 2 of the features and setting the time is less than intuitive. Think about it. For 1 second, type 1. For 10 seconds, type 10. For 60 seconds (1 minute), type 100.
Tactile controls can help simplify an interface. Rather than putting every feature on the front, tactile controls can allow you to tier features behind a dial, only to be accessed on the rare occasion you need it.
Touchscreens have a lot of benefits. They’re fluid, relatively inexpensive, and they tend to be visually unobtrusive. I’ve tried to highlight some of the benefits of analog controls to encourage designers to think more holistically about the user experience and use all the resources at their disposal, rather than jumping to a touchscreen solution. I hope consumers acknowledge that their struggles with digital tech probably aren’t the result of user error, but rather design problems that haven’t been addressed yet. I think a blend of technologies can lead to products that are safer, easier, faster, and more fun to use.