Fast Co Design recently published an article questioning the reasoning behind tech companies’ infatuation with the color blue. The author cited interesting points, some of which are relevant to the automotive industry, and it got me thinking about the use of blue within vehicles.
For a long time, the color blue has represented a company’s forward-thinking approach to electric vehicles. Just look at all of the electric cars that have come to market in the past decade — from BMW’s i brand, to Daimler’s electric products, Hyundai’s Ioniq brand and Volkswagen’s electric car range — every one of them wears blue.
Green was a very short-lived fad. All electric cars soon adopted blue as the default visionary color; a visual depiction of being at the cutting edge, of embracing new technology.
While blue is seen as the color of the future, research has shown that blue light can not only negatively impact sleep patterns — by suppressing the human body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, which regulates night and day cycles and sleep-wake cycles — but is also responsible for increasing obesity and some cancers.
Blue light also causes artifacts, making the user less able to refocus quickly at night. This is a paramount concern in cars that, with few exceptions, are adopting blue as the default color for all user interfaces. The need to refocus on the darkened road ahead after looking at a center screen or IP readout is critical; milliseconds count.
David Lyon founded Pocketsquare Design after his 22-year-long career with General Motors, where he most recently served as the global carmaking giant’s executive director of interior design. He was responsible for overseeing Perceptual Quality, Color & Trim and User Experience in seven of GM’s design studios, but his work at Pocketsquare has enabled him to take a broader view of the industry and compile the image below.
This is the reality of too many of today’s user interfaces: black, white and — mostly — blue.
“BMW is a rare exception in the orange vs. blue design divide because the car company follows the military’s reasoning: Since the ’70s, BMW has made its cars’ dashboard cluster lights with a red-orange hue, at a wavelength of 605 nanometers,” writes Amber Case. “This allows drivers to see the instruments clearly […] while also enabling their vision to quickly adjust to the outside darkness after quickly glancing down; red-orange light also caused less eye fatigue.”
There’s no question that blue is an appealing color. The cool shade is synonymous with ‘future thinking’ and we’ve been conditioned to believe the hype through multiple mediums. But to quote the late Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple: “[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Isn’t it time to re-evaluate technology’s priorities in the car?