Home Funky Ergonomics Award Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: Kent Hatcher on June 10th, 2008

Autoblog: Automobile Mag hands out Funky Ergonomics Award

I couldn’t agree more with the keen comments of the folks at AutoBlog and the Funky Ergonomics Award to the BMW 7 Series, although it’s all somewhat less funny than “Funky” would imply. BMW might be the ultimate driving experience; it’s far from the ultimate ergonomic experience.

Since its introduction in 2002 the flagship 7 has been the object of persistent derision for its exterior form and particularly for its iDrive controller. In its defense BMW North America stated “We felt that a radically different shape and a radically different ergonomic concept were compulsory to leapfrog the competition.” Most of us familiar with occupational ergonomics know there haven’t been any radical differences in the human form or its capabilities – in fact iDrive may be anti-ergonomic.


The bright-metal iDrive controller resides between the front seats–the traditional home of the gear shifter, which has been relocated to a stalk on the right-hand side of the steering column. Pushing and turning the fist-size knob provides access to some 700 different functions–not counting the 270 actions that can be prompted using voice commands. Try that without taking your eyes of the road for the next twenty minutes.

Selecting one of the four main programs (communication, navigation, entertainment, and climate) is easy, but accessing the secondary levels is not, because the controller needs to be nudged away from its center position at odd angles–45 degrees, 135 degrees, 225 degrees, and 315 degrees. It becomes a hit and miss activity at best in a $70,000 ride.

And, while we’re within our 30-inch envelope of the BMW’s controls, one of the most noticeable changes is the removal of the keyed ignition switch in favor of a key fob and starter button located on the dash which logically doesn’t make much sense since the key fob must be placed in the dash slot anyway.  There’s also a new turn-signal stalk that doesn’t remain in the up or down position, so you can’t tell by feel whether the signal is on.

BMW should forsake the gimmicks, acknowledge they are not ergonomic refinements and concentrate on their traditional virtues of power and performance. Ergonomic refinement is best done in small increments that are understandable by the operator and carried out by engineers that know whereof they speak.

One response to “Funky Ergonomics Award”

  1. Parul Lahoti says:

    This is an interesting post, because last year when I visited the BMW area of the 2007 International Auto Show, I was thinking the same thing. The iDrive controller, while impressivly multi-functional, seems not to be what I would want to use while driving. Then, when I was a passenger in a BMW rental in Germany last year, these feelings were confirmed, as I was fumbling with the iDrive controller while my driver was impatiently waiting for me to “figure it out”. Let’s be honest, sometimes “hi-tech” means “not user friendly”. Don Norman’s book (The Design of Everyday Things) seems to have discussed this exact phenomenon nearly 20 years ago.
    All of this is aside form any real discussion about a sustained pinch grip and the awkward elbow postures the user would have to take on while using the iDrive controller. All in all, not my favorite candidate for an ergonomics award. And all the more reason to ask for an operator’s input. If we could see the driver inside the lovely car’s interior, we might have some different insights about it.

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