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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-063
Date: September 2004

In-Vehicle Display Icons and Other Information Elements: Volume II

Final Report

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Recent and near-term development and deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) such as Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) and Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS) suggest that drivers will soon be faced with a host of new visual, auditory, and tactile information. In-Vehicle Information Systems (IVIS) technologies share the common goal of increasing public safety and reducing costs associated with accidents, collisions, and congestion. However, the distinctive and complex nature of IVIS devices suggests that these systems have the potential to further strain driver capabilities and that, if not carefully implemented, they may actually exacerbate existing traffic problems. Drivers have always had to time-share their attention between internal (e.g., speedometers) and external (e.g., traffic control devices) sources of information, but ITS technologies represent new frontiers for in-vehicle information systems.

The overall goal of the "In-Vehicle Display Icons and Other Information Elements" project has been to provide designers of these in-vehicle technologies with a set of design guidelines for these icons and other information elements. Specific objectives of this project were to:

  • Design and perform experimentation to select appropriate symbols for in-vehicle use, then use the resulting data to write final guidelines for in-vehicle symbols usage encompassing both current and future symbols.
  • Write preliminary, as well as empirically based, final guidelines.

IVIS devices are entering the automotive marketplace so quickly that many research issues associated with the design of in-vehicle visual symbols and other information elements have not been adequately addressed. Chief among these issues is the need to integrate multiple sources of IVIS messages that are presented to drivers and to prioritize these sources to reduce driver overload and maintain public safety. Also, auditory and tactile messages have not been addressed to the point where comprehensive design specifications for these systems can be confidently developed and communicated to the IVIS design community. Without the appropriate study and design guidance to aid and standardize their development, IVIS devices may present contradictory information to the driver, confuse the driver, overload or distract the driver, interfere with one another, violate driver expectations and responses, and lead to a decrease in driver safety. Therefore, it is critical that a comprehensive set of design guidelines for these systems is developed and shared with industry.

The key product of this project is a set of clear, concise, and user-centered human factors design guidelines for in-vehicle icon design. The guidelines address issues such as the legibility, recognition, interpretation, and evaluation of graphical and text-based icons and symbols. These guidelines provide IVIS developers with key information regarding the use and integration of existing and new visual symbols.

The flow of tasks in the project is shown in the following figure. As seen in the figure, the project consisted of a mix of analytical (tasks A and B), empirical (tasks D and E), and integrative (tasks C and F) activities.

Figure 1  - The Flow of Project Activities (as presented in figure 1). Click here for more details.

Figure 2. The Flow of Project Activities (as presented in figure 1)

In broad terms, the analytical activities (tasks A and B) provided a review of current in-vehicle icon use and designer needs for human factors information for in-vehicle icons; empirical activities (tasks D and E) consisted of experiments to address high-priority research gaps in the icon design literature; and integrative activities (tasks C and F) included the development of both preliminary and final human factors design guidelines for in-vehicle icons.

A key element of the project has been the participation of a project working group, consisting of transportation and computing professionals from automotive manufacturers, in-vehicle systems vendors, academia, software companies, and the ITS and human factors communities. A full list of the past and current working group for this project is provided in appendix A. The working group has helped to ensure that design guidelines resulting from this project conform to icon designers' specific needs with respect to content, organization, and format. Specific activities of the working group have been to:

  • Participate in regular teleconferences to discuss project status, deliverables, and future plans.
  • Review project reports and provide feedback.
  • Provide relevant information and documents to the project team.
  • Identify the needed content, organization, and format for the guidelines.
  • Serve as reviewers for the in-progress guidelines
  • Provide more formal evaluation of the draft guidelines handbook.

This report provides one project deliverable associated with task G: "Prepare Final Reports." The purpose of task G is to provide final documentation of the objectives, methods, and results from this project. The remainder of this report is presented in two sections. The "Summary of Project Tasks" section describes the objectives, conduct, and results from tasks A-F of this project. The "Results and Conclusions Section" summarizes the project's key products and benefits.

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