Instrument Cluster Design


When a vehicle is in motion, the operator must remain alert to what is happening in front of them, on either side, and behind them. While remaining vigilant to conditions outside the vehicle, the operator must also monitor the performance of the vehicle and its many systems. This is done by referring to gauges and other elements that are often positioned in front of the operator. Together, these gauges and elements are referred to as an “instrument cluster.”

Instrument clusters can contribute to distracted driving. How? Experts in the field define distracted driving as behaviors that keep an operator’s eyes “off the road” for more than two seconds. Such behaviors significantly increase the potential of an accident. When an instrument cluster is difficult to read, it can cause an operator to have to look at it for more than two seconds, or look back at it several times, to find specific information. That is distracted driving.

Is this a real issue? Several years ago, I conducted a study at a trade show where I asked people to complete anonymous questionnaires about their instrument clusters. 101 people participated. 71 of the participants, or 70 percent, indicated they had difficulty reading the gauges in their vehicles. Yes, this is a real issue.

At that same trade show, I introduced a prototype designed to correct some of the “flaws” I had discovered in instrument clusters. After evaluating the prototype, 95 percent of those anonymous participants indicated they wanted a similar visual interface in their next vehicle. The prototype had an extraordinary appeal! What made the prototype different? Its design was based on principles from the sciences of cognition and human factors. It was not an instrument cluster. It was a carefully crafted visual information display.


It has become obvious to me that the only way to ensure visual interfaces are not a distraction is to design them so they can be read in a single, quick glance. In a few months, Havins Designs™ will offer a new type of visual Interface to the public. Like the prototype mentioned above, the new interface emphasizes cognition and human factors. This new patented technology does not stop there. We will describe the functional details of our technology in the Spring of 2022.

By the way, these interfaces can be adapted for use in any vehicle, including land-based vehicles, aircraft, and watercraft. They also find application in “fixed” dynamic environments, like production facilities, static construction equipment, powerplants, and deep well drilling rigs.


The discipline of Human Factors explores how anatomy and physiology influence the way humans perceive and interact with their environment. Our new displays use principles from this discipline to facilitate rapid perception of displayed content.

One of the most important Human Factors principles describes how humans scan an array to find specific information. Other principles relate to the influences of “segmentation,” “figure-ground effects,” and other characteristics of what appears in a visual interface. Adherence to these principles ensures content in our displays is perceived quickly. This is essential for achieving the goal of a visual interface that can be perceived and understood in a single, quick glance.


When you first see this new type of interface you may think, “This is simple!” After you watch it function for a while you may think, “Look at all it does!” And after a bit you may think, “This is so powerful, and yet, it continues to look so simple!” That simplicity, versatility, and power come from our project’s “cognitive design.”

The discipline of Cognition, in part, explores how humans process information and arrive at decisions. Decisions lead to behaviors. When operating a vehicle, the “highest level” cognitive task for an operator is making decisions. The decisions made by the operator, and the behaviors that result from those decisions, determine if the vehicle is operated safely. Any aspect of a visual interface that delays understanding slows the process of making decisions. In dynamic environments, delays can have disastrous consequences.

To achieve the goal of a display that can be perceived and understood in a single, quick glance, it was first necessary to carefully reconsider how traditional instrument cluster elements communicate “meaning.” What I found was that many elements require as many as ten combined perceptual and cognitive “steps” before their meaning is understood. Why is that important? Each of those steps takes time. Time spent trying to discern “meaning” delays understanding.

Another issue I discovered was there is no consistent “method” for displaying information in traditional instrument clusters. It is up to the operator to appreciate how each element must be “read,” and then, apply that method to extract the “meaning” from the element. Two elements that look similar may have to be “read” in different ways. One may relate to units of time, while the other relates to units of volume. This lack of a consistent method adds to the “cognitive load” the operator experiences. The greater the load, the slower understanding is achieved.

A third issue I discovered was the potential for “cognitive overload.” The more elements there are in a cluster, the greater the cognitive load on the operator. The increased cognitive load, again, slows understanding.

These several discoveries, and others, led to this new project and its family of U.S. Patents. The organization of elements, and the design of each element, limits the number of cognitive steps required to read them. Development of a consistent “method” ensures that elements that appear similar are read the same way. And, although each display is capable of showing an infinite number of measures, artificial intelligence used in our software ensures that only the most important elements are displayed at any one time. Simple, versatile, and powerful.

That is an extremely brief explanation of how the cognitive design of these new interfaces make “complicated stuff” look “simple.” In the Spring of 2022 I will provide more complete detail about how all of this is done.