How Tesla revolutionized automotive user interface design

With only two buttons on the dash (for your hazard lights and the glove compartment), the Tesla Model S user interface (UI) revolutionized the way drivers interact with an automobile. Automakers, to this day, rely heavily on buttons and other outdated "analog" approaches. But, with the Tesla Model S, the team at Tesla Motors tasked with the UI experience approached their initial design challenge in a radically different manner. Their approach felt more like Apple than GM. How did the team at Tesla create such a disruptive, yet seamless UI experience? We gain some insights with two new videos published by Parleys* today.

At Devoxx, the Java community conference, Joe Nuxoll, the (original) lead user experience designer for the touchscreen in the Tesla Model S, as well as the Tesla Model S mobile application, discusses the history of how Tesla Motors (and his team) went about disrupting traditional automotive user interface design. Joe mentioned that he left Tesla before they started work on right hand drive vehicles, but, his "mark" can still be felt whenever interacting with the 17" center stack touchscreen in the Tesla Model S. It's a fascinating talk (and follow-up interview) both featured below (see bottom of post).

Joe Nuxoll, according to the video description, has held significant posts at several top-tier Silicon Valley tech companies including Tesla Motors, Apple, Sun, Navigenics, Borland, and other tech start-ups. Joe is former co-host of the popular podcast "The Java Posse" and an independent user experience designer who also happens to be a race driving instructor.

According to Bloomberg Business, the Tesla UI design was greatly influenced by Apple: "Apple’s influence at Tesla is apparent in the Model S... [which] has a 17-inch touchscreen that controls most functions, from opening the panoramic roof to turning on the air conditioning, and has Internet access. As with an iPhone or an iPad, Tesla’s operating system gets frequent wireless updates. Brennan Boblett, a former Apple designer, developed the car’s control screen with a team of Apple alumni, including Joe Nuxoll, a freelance design consultant who’s worked at both companies. 'You try to design it so that it requires not a whole lot of thinking,' Nuxoll says. 'It’s more like an iPhone than a Ford.'"

Without giving away too many details, Joe discusses how he evaluated other vehicle UI designs (from Porsche to Mercedes) and leaned on his team of former Apple staffers to implement his unique, disruptive vision for the Tesla Model S UI experience. If you've ever wondered about the history, approach, and background of Tesla's elegant and game-changing UI in the Model S, we recommend you check out these videos...

*Videos: Parleys / Images: Tesla Motors