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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. Click here for more details.

Figure 1. The Flow of Project Activities

As noted above, the overall goal of the In-Vehicle Display Icons and Other Information Elements project has been to provide the designers of in-vehicle technologies with a set of design guidelines for in-vehicle display icons and other information elements. The final design guidelines provided in Volume I of this project have clearly achieved this goal. These clear, relevant, and easy-to-use guidelines provide up-to-date information on a number of topics critical to icon development and evaluation.

Much of the impetus behind the initial conceptualization of this project can be summed up by going back to two of the conclusions from the project's task A report:

  1. The lack of guidelines and standards for icons has resulted in design by consensus, a lack of scientific rigor in icon development, and multiple icons for the same messages.
  2. Existing literature and standards provide little guidance for the design of new icons for IVIS devices.

In short, the transportation system design community-and, indeed, the larger electronics/computer industry-has not had the benefit of a single information source that provided clear, relevant, and useful guidance for icon design. The final guidelines produced in this project therefore fill a critical gap in the transportation human factors literature.

In addition, the Icon IDEA software tool developed in this project has provided a real-time icon development and evaluation tool that, to date, is receiving consistently positive reviews from the project's working group members. This tool is entirely functional and ready to use, and should prove to be an invaluable aid and resource for icon design. Also, the technical reports, conference papers, and conference presentations developed during this project provide a permanent record on a number of substantive issues related to icon design, that may not yet be incorporated into either the final design guidelines or the IDEA software tool.

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