Cullmann Design Blog


A Different Kind of User Interface

Mobile Interface Design for Cars and DriversI became interested in embedded operating systems like those found in cars early this year while developing ideas for clients. While the idea of designing special interfaces for drivers is as old as the automobile, making intuitive interfaces for computers and people without visuals is a somewhat less developed art. For these interfaces to work for a distracted driver barreling down the freeway is all new territory for almost all User Interface (UI) designers.

So why not leave automotive design to the auto-industry? Because the auto industry is coming to the user interface designer. Particularly, the explosion of smartphone ownership and a crack-down on handset use while driving will spur a market for applications to help the driver navigate, monitor conditions and make changes to their environment. Auto manufactures are quickly recognizing the need to create a safe and easy way to allow drivers to use their devices. Ford, an early adopter to in-cabin technology has announced a solution for developers to interface smartphones with their SYNC technology.

Ford’s AppLink SYNC SDK will allow for the voice-activated system in the car (which is already charged with navigation, audio and communication controls) to control applications on iOS (iPhone), Android and BlackBerry devices. Although Ford is not the only company to provide an computer control interface or voice-activated controls, it is the first to have a solution that developers are gravitating to.

Currently, the SYNC system, is only available in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. Similar systems are available from GM (marketed under the OnStar brand) and Chrysler (UConnect), but few foreign car builders are providing a challenge to Ford. None of Ford’s competitors are as fast to provide solutions for developer either. For a market driven by technology, the uptake by the development community will fuel both innovation and adoption.

For someone who is designing solutions for consumers to take advantage of technology while driving, Ford’s AppLink is the first step to modern design solutions for developers and user interface experts. Currently, the SDK will provide developers the ability to use voice control, steering wheel buttons, text-to-speech features and vehicle data (speed, gps location, etc).

Although in-vehicle application development provides challenges, the ability to present the driver with solutions for comfort, communication, health and safety is a completely new frontier that had previously been limited to those in automotive circles.

Learn more about AppLink for the Ford SYNC

Category: design, developer, usability

Tagged: Android, BlackBerry, design, Ford SYNC, Interface Design, iphone

About Cullmann

Chris Cullmann is a Creative Director and Online Strategist. He works for Ogilvy CommonHealth Interactive Marketing, a digital agency dedicated to healthcare marketing. His professional and personal portfolio includes interactive websites, viral and social media, and online education applications. His portfolio and observations about the design and marketing industry can be found at

The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or those who I am professionally connected.

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