Homer Simpson was onto something when he designed his perfect car (Season 2 Episode 15 “Oh brother, where art thou?”). He was onto the fact that car horns have issues. Yes yes, his issue with the horn was ridiculous, I know, but never the less he had an issue with the horn…as do I… (throw me a bone here, I’m trying to make a connection).
The problem with car horns is that they have only one tone. Now I understand that car manufacturers expect drivers to only use the horn in certain situations, such as when they need to warn others of impending danger, but the fact is that horns are used for much more than that….and,
car designers should know this.
If car designers really understood their customers, users, drivers.. then they would know this. They would have described all the scenarios, role played the personas, and discovered that horns are not only used to warn. No, they would have discovered that horns are used to communicate, and to communicate a great deal.
Here some other situations when we use the horn to communicate other messages:
- see somebody we know, honk
- say goodbye when we drive off
- say goodbye as we drive by our friend in another car
- announce you have arrived
- let another vehicle jump in front of you
- tell the cat to get off the road
- thank another driver
- vent your frustration in traffic delays
- rejoice when your team wins
- connect with pedestrians who are wearing your team colours
- alert a pedestrian they have dropped something
- alert a driver they left their coffee on the roof
- alert pedestrians you are pulling out
- tell the driver in front of you the light is green
- show your anger to other drivers
- alert stupid drivers to their mistakes
- and many more….
Yet somehow we convey all of these messages with only 1 tone..Amazing.
Well, we think we convey these messages. The problem with no tone, or lack of tone variation, is that we think we are conveying a particular message, when in reality it may not be the message that is being received. We do try to manipulate the horn so that our message is not misinterpreted. We try to lightly tap it, or give several short taps, or give long hard ones. But in the end it’s down to the receiver, and what state they are in in that moment, and how receptive they are to your “message”.
The problem is drivers need/want to communicate with people outside of their vehicles, and the only means they have is the horn. The horn speaks for us, because our voice cannot be heard from within the cabin. So the horn becomes our voice. Imagine you could only speak with single tone beeps.
So car designers, what are you going to do about it?
Multi-tone car horns? LED talk-to-text displays? A microphone and speaker? Remove all windows?
PS: you don’t need to be a car designer to solve this problem
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