Donald Norman has several suggestions for making cars more usable. First, an idea I think I've had before, the front passenger seat should be able to face the rear.
Why not allow the front seat to face to the rear? Now, suddenly, the front and rear passengers are united. Moreover, the front passenger seat could now slide forward, with its rear abutting the dashboard, thereby increasing legroom for the two facing passengers. This position allows everyone in the car to converse: front seat passenger, rear seat passengers, and even the driver, for now the driver is certainly no worse of than before, possibly better.
Folklore has it that passengers reject the idea of facing backwards. But why do they sit this way on trains? And what if it were a choice, with the front seat either swiveling or constructed like a train seat, with the backrest being movable from the rear of the seat to the front? Safety? Rear-facing seats are safer than front-facing ones – we require them for babies -- but a flexible seat poses some difficulties with crash resistance and seat belt placement, but nothing a clever designer could not overcome. This is not a new idea: see the Renault Deck'up and the Espace. An idea whose time is now.
Second, make passengers first-class citizens.
Passengers have more and more choice. Entertainment, individual temperature controls, individual video and audio controls. Cell phones, music players, video games. Lights. Where do they put all that stuff? Where do they plug it in? Years ago the need arose for places to put drinks: coffee for the adults, and canned or bottled drinks for everyone. It took years, but finally most car manufacturers obeyed the request, adding a wide variety and quantity of drink holders. (Some recalcitrant manufacturers still resist.) Today, we need places to store and plug in a wide variety of devices: music and video players, game machines and controllers, earphones, cellphones, and computers. Each needs a safe, secure place to be docked, each needs electrical power, and some need to be networked to one another. Someday soon many will need internet connections. And the same facilities have to be provided separately for everyone: the driver, the front passengers and the rear passengers (and in larger vehicles, the third-row passengers).
“But,” I can hear the automobile purists complaining, “you are confusing the automobile with the family room.”
Yup, that I am. Deliberately. Today’s vehicles are not just for driving: they are for living. And living means work and play, fun and entertainment.
I completely agree. There's no reason your car shouldn't have more power outlets, a beefier power supply, and a built-in wireless router. A car should be a traveling outpost of personal space and civilization, so it needs to keep up with the house and have more modern amenities.
(HT: My brother Nick.)