Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chevrolet: Speeding Toward Bad Design

Chevrolet Truck 1941

Designer Christian Annyas charts the evolution of Chevrolet speedometer design with more than a dozen examples and, like me, thinks it's getting worse, not better.
It’s easy for a driver to get used to a needle that rises and passes numbers that are located on fixed positions. A quick glance is all it takes to see and understand the value it represents. With the most recent design it’s different. The value of the ‘stopwatch’ constantly changes while driving. Some characters of the typeface look very similar to others (for instance 0, 6 and 8), which makes it harder to figure out whether you’ll get a speeding ticket or not. Not an ideal situation.
At the risk of sounding like an old crank, although it's probably too late, I feel the same way about digital radio tuners. Maybe its time for Chevy to go retro with their instrument panels.

Chevrolet Sonic 2011


  1. It started going downhill when they stopped using 10 m.p.h. increments. When you look at the progression, it's like the designers sat around brainstorming ways to make it harder to tell how fast you're going. Very weird. It seems like an attempt to be "modern" at the expense of functionality.

  2. What a coincidence, lately I have been ruminating about several Flint automotive things and here is a post that opens up the door. First of all, to be accurate, when speaking about an instrument cluster and the little pointy things that tell you how fast you are going or what your battery charge is, you should refer to it as a pointer (not a needle). Those of us who invested years in designing and building instrument clusters are pretty sensitive about this. Next, I agree completely about a preference for analog speedometers over digital models. In fact, the red 55 was a great thing and still is on some models, allowing a driver to glance at the speedo pointer and quickly note its relationship, above or below, the red spot on the speedo face. That feature has saved me on more than one bleary eyed trip home from the "pub" (not that I approve of impaired driving). Next, I was I Flint last weekend and it finally hit me, Flint's roads are beyond lousy. The x-ways in and around Flint are full of pot holes and other road hazards, to the extreme. Where were the Michigan legislators when we were handing out stimulus money? Actually, it seems that as soon as I hit the state line, the roads start to quickly degrade. Here at home, we have been building new x-ways and other infra structure nonstop for several years. It seems to me that what we tore up was much better than what Flint drives on every day. Last of all, I am real disappointed at the new Chevy Volt ads. "You can go up to 35 miles on battery power, before switching to gasoline assist". 35 miles? This will barely get most folks to work in the morning; forget about getting home. After all the hype, I was expecting something way beyond 35 miles between battery charges. Is GM blowing their alternative fuel opportunity or do I expect too much?

  3. Pointer it is!

    I agree that the 35 miles isn't that impressive, especially for commuters. But it would cover just about every trip I ever take around San Francisco, so I'd only need gas on longer trips out of the city. Then again, I don't have a garage, so charging the car would be a problem.

  4. We (my wife and I) enjoy the new displays; at least for the speedometer. We have a Chevy with the "heads up" option and find it easier to read information displayed digitally on the windshield than a pointer between your hands.

  5. Definitely an interesting topic. I used the link to the author's article. It was fun looking at the speedos of old, he does have a 2008 Cruze listed, unfortunately that came out in 2011.

    The surprising thing is that the truly new designs that Chevy has are selling quite well. The Malibu, Cruze, Equinox are all doing extremely well. The Equinox for example can't be built fast enough to keep up with the demand. The Malibu is the number 1 seller right now, but when the all new Impala comes out that may change. The Cruze is a constant seller. There is an all new Colorado coming that is mind blowing in design. It's an exciting time for Chevrolet.

    I think that design is the key. If the car is exciting in design with the features, performance, and reliability to back up the design then the car will be a winner in the present tense as well as future tense.

    My nostalgia design wish is tail-lights. I long for the days when I could tell the year of the car by the tail-lights....that's another topic for a latter day.

  6. What book is this from? I swear I was just looking through some book on good design that had this info. It wonders me.

  7. Aaron, not sure. I linked to the website where I spotted it, and that sight doesn't link to another source.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at