How to master UX from a 10 year old BMW

When we talk about User Experience, we usually limit ourselves to websites and apps. But we tend to forget that good UX design can be found even on dishwashers, coffee machines and especially cars.

Why cars? Just think about it for a moment, they’ve been out on the market for nearly a century, they had a lot more time to evolve than phones; we’re merely at the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

Secondly, a car needs to be a no-nonsense, frictionless experience between all of it’s components and the driver. You can’t just look in the owner’s manual everytime you want to use the blinkers.

In my opinion, no one does it better than BMW, 10 years ago. So let’s just analyse what they did right and how you can improve your UX design skills.


  1. Create a timeless, functional design

What surprises me most about these cars is that they can still hold their looks even by today’s standards. How did they manage to do that? By going with a minimal and mostly functional design, nothing to distract you. They didn’t go with the myriad of buttons and knobs like all the other cars of the era, instead they made the iDrive system, which is basically just a screen controlled by a big aluminium knob right at your hand’s natural resting position.

Going back to the present. My advice to you is to try not to distract the user from the main goal of your app, I know you might be tempted to use show off all the things you can do, but sometimes it’s good just to keep it simple. If it takes longer than 3 taps to get where you want to, it’s not good.

2. Be familiar

This is a big one. Remember than aluminium swivel wheel? With it you can go forward, backward and go through lists. The most important thing is that in every screen of the OS you can always and only do these actions. It’s familiar, by using it a lot you tend to form muscle memory and after some time you don’t even have to look at the screen to do anything. Also they pair it with 8 buttons on the steering wheel, 2 of which are programmable to anything you desire.

So keep that in mind when designing an interface, people already use phones for some time, they expect things to be in some specific places, like that back button on the top left corners on iPhones, or the sliding menu on Android.

3. Look for the details

When you buy a german luxury sedan like this, you expect a pristine attention to detail, and they take that to the next level. I’m not going to talk about the materials here, but their placement, size and function. Try prototyping, experimenting with many variations and see which one works better. Spend a little more time with the details, people will appreciate that.

4. Surprise them

I talked about making everything functional and minimal, with that comes a sense of assuring uniformity but sometimes it’s just boring. So what did BMW do? They scattered here and there one of those “Oh that’s awesome!” moments. In an era with physical keys that you have to turn to start the car, they added a start stop button, that’s big and it gives you that jet fighter feel everytime you press it, literally it never gets old. Another great example is the mirror that goes down when you go backwards to help you see those sidewalks better.

Always try to sneak out some little things like these. They always spice up the experience, just don’t go too overboard, remember step 1.

Thanks a lot for reading this, don’t forget to leave a ❤ if it helped you.

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