What is a white paper? According to InvestorWorlds: white paper is an educational report made available to the public that expounds on a particular industry issue.

In information technology, a white paper is often a paper written by a lead product designer to explain the philosophy and opera on of a product in a marketplace or technology context. Many if not most Web sites for so ware products include a white paper in addition to a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page and more detailed product specification.

In this white paper, I'm going to talk about the emerging Head-Up Display technology and how can it solve the existing problem behind car dashboard design.


In this white paper, the usability and ergonomic analysis of car dashboards have been issued, several existing problems like system visibility, cognitive capture, and information overload have to be valued. Then the application of Head-Up Display (HUD) is borrowed from the aviation field into the automobile industry. HUD has the advantage of not distracting the drivers and increasing the safety of driving performance. Also, the research on Head-Up Display interface is popular, there are lots of discussion on the presentation images of HUD interface now. In the future, the customization of HUD interface might be a design trend based on the issue of user experience and Kansei Engineering. The advanced technology like augmented reality can also be applied to vehicle maintenance and user manual, the development improvement in the automobile industry is growing. 


In Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of dashboards is as described: a panel extending across the interior of a vehicle below the windshield and usually containing instruments and controls. This definition gives a thorough image of a car dashboard, an instrument panel which contains lots of important information for driving experience. To help drivers with their concentration on the driving condition, car dashboards are placed on the windshield, in order to keep driver’s eyesight straight toward the road and decrease the distraction of retrieving information from it.

Image 1: Ford Model T dashboard - with only one lever and one gauge

But back to the beginning of 20th century, when Henry Ford first introduced the Ford Model T series to the world, the design of so-called “car dashboard” was totally different from those we are accustomed to nowadays. The original Ford Model T only had one lever and one gauge in the dashboard, since the less technology it used, the distraction during operating vehicles were lower than today’s car. But after the 100 years progress, we have accepted the complex dashboards, today’s drivers have to interpret a large amount of information while driving, and they also have more options to utilize technologies so that the driving experience could be optimized (Everdell, 2015). 

From the cognitive psychology perspective, we know that the capacity of human’s brain in a short period is limited. When retrieving information, people couldn’t just take a glance at the little space of car dashboard then absorb everything on it, our mental workload couldn’t afford that much. Also, the short distraction time might influence the driving process a lot, and lead to a threat to driver’s safety. Moreover, thanks to the advances in engineering and electronics, cars have become faster today, but as a consequence, the data for driving needs to be read, interpreted and responded to more quickly than before (Carvalho & Soares, 2012). So, the design of car dashboard has been discussed and valued so much. There are more and more studies about car dashboard, including user-interface design, like the issues of information overload and driving safety, usability and ergonomic analysis, universal design and accessibility; and also advanced technology, such as the comparison of Head-Up Display and Head-Down Display. The purpose of this white paper is to know more about the evaluation and analysis of car dashboard design, also the new technology which might be helpful for improving the driving experience. 

Problem Statement and Goals

There are three major topics I want to discuss in this white paper:

  • How can we evaluate a dashboard? What kinds of problems would be identified?
  • How to solve the problem of visibility and improve the dashboard UI?
  • As technology progress,how can we deal with the issue of information overload?

The most important and very first thing to be discussed is the usability of the car dashboard. So how do we evaluate a dashboard? What kinds of dashboards could be considered with high safety and good usability?

Carvalho and Soares (2012) gave an ergonomic and usability analysis on a sample of automobile dashboards, this report used three models: popular model - Peugeot 206, average model - Honda Civic and deluxe model - Mitsubishi Pajero Full, to find out how do drivers feel about the design, and the elements and problems that might be serious and should be fixed in these car dashboard models. And another article is about the usability of car dashboard displays for elder drivers (Kim, Dey, Lee, & Forlizzi, 2011), which presented six dashboard designs with different color elements and degree of clutter for the elder participants to conduct the simulated driving tasks.

Dashboard elements, such as the amount of information, size and color, were addressed and discussed in these two studies, it brought us to the discussion of dashboard visibility, whether the information could be received by users successfully or not. For example, Carvalho and Soares (2012) found Peugeot 206 has serious impact such as the reflection of light and cognitive problem of unfamiliar symbols; Civic provided information in foreign language which may influence the perception of information; Mitsubishi Pajero Full as a deluxe model has semiological problems of full knowledge of all of signs and captions. In the elder drivers’ study (Kim et.al, 2011), authors found that the low clutter (LC) designs required less gaze dwell-on time and lower gaze drop-by frequency than high clutter (HC) designs, which indicates the attention switching between dashboard and the road condition on LC designs is less impacted for the elder participants.

Another recent trend of driving experience is using Global Positioning System (GPS) device or mobile navigation applications, such as Google Maps, to assist with direction while driving. In general, navigation system interface will provide traffic condition and direction instruction for the driver, in order to help with avoiding congestion or heavy traffic and get to the destination faster and more safely. Although the application will also provide audio instruction so that the driver can get the traffic information through hearing, the inevitable peak of traffic condition is still a must action for the driver. Actually, this kind of Head-Down Display (HDD) requires a short distraction to locate and interpret the information, which is a potential danger in driving experience. Therefore, the integration of varied information is another important issue in car dashboard design (Hu and Yeh, 2015). Based on this concept, we can also consider about the necessity of the information: is every information or data presented on the dashboard always necessary during the whole driving time? If the answer is no, how can we deal with this? Or how can we utilize this situation to become an improvement of car dashboard design? 

Solution / Future Development

To help with solving the problem that stated and mentioned in the previous paragraph, I want to introduce a new technology which could be applied to car information interface design significantly— Head-Up Display (HUD).
According to Wikipedia, the definition of HUD: any transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. So, the HUD technology has an advantage of preventing driver’s refocusing to view the outside surrounding environment after looking at the optically nearer instruments, which could reduce the distraction to the minimum. Automobile HUD could be considered as a kind of Augmented Reality (AR) technology. In 1994, Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino addressed the Milgram’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum, which indicated the range of AR was located in the mixed reality, between real environment and virtual environment. Also, Dr. Ronald T. Azuma proposed the definition of Augmented Reality as a system includes three characteristics: Combines real and virtual, Interact in real-time, and Registered in 3-D. Generally speaking, image or video projection is the most common used technique in AR, and HUD is one of this kind of application. It integrates information into the real environment, using image projection to present the virtual dashboard information on the windshield.

Image 2: the Milgram’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum

The original use of HUD is from the aviation field, to reduce gaze shifting and re-accommodation time. so it’s very common in the aerospace industry, which can help the pilots with operating performance. Twenty years ago, HUD technology had been addressed to be applied in the automobile industry (Ward and Parkes, 1994). Considering safety issue, the authors discussed the problems of aviation applications of HUDs at that time, including disorientation, mis-accommodation, and poor legibility. And these are all important issue which couldn’t be underestimated in the application of automobile HUD. For example, how can the industry overcome the background complexity of the road condition and present clear and legible symbols for the drivers? As technology develops, the discussion of HUD has grown fast, Charissis and Papanastasiou (2010) designed and implemented a working prototype to test the driving performance in low visibility condition with different HUD interfaces presented. And they found out that the problem of cognitive capture that Ward and Parkes proposed could be improved, and the drivers can navigate effectively with the assistance of the HUD interface through the low visibility driving condition they simulated.

In the application of automobile HUD, the original car dashboard still exists, but HUD can help decreasing distraction like eye-off-road timings and response times. The HUD technology is projecting certain important information on the windshield, so that driver can retrieve the information more intuitive and faster, also without changing focus from the road to the car dashboard, which is in a lower position. As some studies result indicated, when HUD is compared to traditional Head-Down Display (HDD), there are some signiVicant relevance and impact on driver’s performance. Liu and Wen (2004) investigated the effect of HUD and HDD on the driving performance and psychological workload ratings of drivers operating commercial vehicles in Taiwan. And the results showed that in high-driving load conditions, “response time to an urgent event” task was performed faster with the HUD, and the speed control was more consistent as well. In addition, the HUD design caused less mental stress and is easier for novel users to become familiar with.
Interestingly, HUD is also used and presented in many science fiction movies as a symbol of high technology and futuristic invention. In the movie The Avengers, Iron Man’s exosuit has the HUD feature inside its helmet as a communications interface. In the movie, we can always see the face of Robert Downey Jr. and the reverse image of the interface while he is flying or fighting. And the best thing of the Iron Man HUD is that it can change to the needs of the situation, but five icons: suit status, targeting and optics, radar, artificial horizon, and map are persistently in the lower part of the display (Noessel, 2015).

Image 3: Iron Man HUD

This design concept is kind of similar to what Smith and Fu (2012) wanted to point out in their article. The investigated the relationship between the drivers’ representative Kansei factors and HUD physical presentation image design properties. Five pairs of representative Kansei words are selected from thirty-two pairs by six experts: “Modern-Ancient”, “Masculine- Feminine”, “Relaxing-Anxious”, “Soft-Harsh”, and “Explicit-Ambiguous”. And eighteen representative HUD presentation images were created with six design elements: form of the major content, form of the secondary content, amount of information, image location, font, and color. And the survey was analyzed by three different sections: the whole population of the participants, by gender, and by age. The result indicated how people reacted to the different design with these pairs of Kansei, and what is the major design element that matters.
I think this study could explain the importance of user experience and usability research in car dashboard/HUD design, Kansei Engineering is discussing about customers’ psychological feelings or image of a product, which goes back to the core of user experience field - users’ demands, to design the product so that it could be fit in every users’ situation. For instance, the “Relaxing-Anxious” Kansei result has different responses from male and female groups. Men considered the amount of information affected it the most, when the degree of clutter comes to five items, it brought in anxious feeling. But for women, the location of the HUD projection affected the most. The presentation image would make them relaxing if it was projected on the right side of the steering wheel, and the anxious feeling comes with the position of left-side of the steering wheel (Smith & Fu, 2012).
So, the customization of HUD presenting images can possibly improve the problem of cognitive capture and information overload, help with the individual difference in information perception, and also enhance a car’s uniqueness. In the research article of drivers’ attitude towards HUD system (Guo, Zhao, Wang, & Jiang, 2014), the ranking of driving information based on the sample from Beijing, China according to their driving experience. But based on my personal experience, I won’t consider gap (distance from the leading car) be my first need among these categories. In summary, if the car dashboard or display system could be customized or contextualized, it would be safer and more helpful to the drivers.

Image 4: Ranking of driving information


HUD is one of the most popular technologies in automobile industry recently, but the technology is always developing and updating, we will never know what kind of new technology we have to deal with in the future. The new technology generates new information, and people need to learn how to understand and interpret the information fast and properly. But it is always good to see improvement and advancement, for example, AR technology is now applied in vehicle maintenance use as well, Hyundai virtual guide gives a new perspective of vehicle manual. Their customer can use the app to understand the structure and widget of their car better, with assistance such as how-to video, 3-D overlay images, 2-D information guide (Turpen, 2015). In conclusion, I feel optimistic to see how technology can improve the driving experience, as long as it would not bring any extra burden to the users, and the legibility of information would be high enough for any users.



  • Carvalho, R., & Soares, M. (2012) Ergonomic and usability analysis on a sample of automobile dashboards. Work: A J. Prev. Assess. Rehabil. 41(2012), 1507–1514.
  • Charissis, V., & Papanastasiou, S. (2010). Human–machine collaboration through vehicle head up display interface. Cognition, Technology & Work Cogn Tech Work, 12(1), 41-50.
  • Guo, H., Zhao, F., Wang, W., & Jiang, X. (2014). Analyzing Drivers' Attitude towards HUD System Using a Stated Preference Survey. Advances in Mechanical Engineering, 6(0), 380647-380647.
  • Hu, J., & Yeh, C. (2015). System Design and Implementation of Smart Dashboard for Electric Vehicles. Mathematical Problems in Engineering, 2015, 1-6.
  • Kim, S., Dey, A. K., Lee, J., & Forlizzi, J. (2011). Usability of car dashboard displays for elder drivers. Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’11.
  • Liu, Y., & Wen, M. (2004). Comparison of head-up display (HUD) vs. head-down display (HDD): Driving performance of commercial vehicle operators in Taiwan. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 61(5), 679-697.
  • Smith, S., & Fu, S. (2011). The relationships between automobile head-up display presentation images and drivers’ Kansei. Displays, 32(2), 58-68.
  • Ward, N. J., & Parkes, A. (1994). Head-up displays and their automotive application: An overview of human factors issues affecting safety. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 26(6), 703-717. 

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