Diatribe: Let there be lights we can read
By AL VINIKOUR For Sun-Times Media May 15, 2012 11:49AM
If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that as one gets older, one’s eyesight gets worse.
And there’s nothing that taxes the ability to see more than red instrumentation on an automobile’s gauge cluster. While red lighting might help submarine crew members retain their night vision as the sub surfaces, it does nothing for old-timers who want to make an emergency run for Depends, Colace or other products of indignity. We can’t see how fast we’re going and we eventually get stopped for speeding at a time of urgency in our lives simply because dashboard lighting was designed for 20-year-olds instead of golden-agers.
Lately, it’s not just night vision that becomes blurry. The other day a colleague of mine and I were driving a hot little Italian vehicle and as luck (and European design) would have it, the readout from the digital information was all in red, albeit with an orange hue. The only saving grace is that the speedometer not only had a digital readout, but also a redundant analog dial that gave us a fighting chance. But this was negated by the fact that during our automobile driving events most of our instructions were based on mileage and since these were also digitalized in red (with no analog backup), we had to practically put our faces up to the gauges to read them clearly enough to see a number.
Didn’t anyone clinic this? Or does red happens the boss’ favorite color and none of the engineers or designers had the guts to tell him or her that red isn’t the best color choice for this information?
I’ve just proven my own point.
During customer clinics it does no good to bring in the teenage/young adults. They have no trouble with their eyesight because they can actually see things that aren’t there. But the rest of us should be given a variety of gauge colorings to see which ones work best for our tired (and lying) eyes.
I’ve encountered lots of blue lettering on white background (and subsequent white lighting for night driving) that works great for anybody of limited or declining eyesight. For its Mustang, Ford Motor Co. has a variety of hues that the customer can select. I’m not advocating that all vehicle manufacturers offer such lighting options, but at least listen to and learn from people about what works best for them and others of their ilk.
This wasn’t a problem in the past because most vehicle lighting was basic black on white. Either this was designed with the customer in mind or a color display was beyond technology at that point.
Years ago, when I knew my way around the cockpits of some big aircraft, the night instrumentation lighting was almost entirely done in red. But I prove my own point by saying at the time it was never an issue because my eyesight, without glasses, was sharp enough to identify the sex of a fly at a thousand yards. Modern aircraft instrumentation is generally composed of so-called “glass cockpits” that contain colorful cathode ray tubing and other forms of LED and LCD displays that are not only easier on the eyes but much more legible, which can mean a lot when you’re flying an aircraft that’s hurtling toward earth.
Even if auto designers were to perfect panel lighting that was in red but had a white background (white being the most contrasting of the two colors), this would easily eliminate the confusion caused by two orbs that have perused print material for the better part of a half century.
In conclusion, I and my fellow dinosaur-dodging senior citizens beseech thee, Mr. Designer, to think of us when you’re tasked with developing lighting for a new instrument panel. Please perfect it in such a way that even a blind man will be able to clearly read the information streaming forth from the vehicle’s instrument panel. And if you won’t do it for nice folks like us, do it for your families because unless we start getting some consideration in our old age your families will never make it to theirs.
Al Vinikour is a Midwest-based freelance auto writer. Proving a mind is a “terrible thing to use” he sometimes sits in traffic and ponders about things — generally auto-related — that make him mad. Believing the “pen is mightier than the sword” (and generally results in a whole lot less jail time), he vents his anger through a word processor and produces the Driver’s Side Diatribe column. Email him at email@example.com.
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