Pebble - 2022 MINI Cooper S
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Meet Pebble; a posh go-kart with blinding lights, lots of color, and lots of personality.
It's no secret that MINIs are fun to drive - but this year is exceptionally pleasurable. Check out the YouTube video where I go over the highlights of the car.
Now, if you want my HCD technical evaluation of truly how usable this 2022 digital revamp is, look no further.
This technical evaluation is based on the Nielsen Norman Group's 10 Usability Heuristics, the tried and true valuation method.
Let's get into it.
1. Visibility of System Status
The design should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable amount of time.
I'm thinking of the instrument panel specifically, where all the "vitals" of the car live. Gas consumption is often unclear...the range is all over the map. One minute you've got a full tank and 350+ miles, suddenly you're down a quarter tank with 100 miles less of range, give or take. Lots of high highs and low lows. Because of this fluctuating range, it's also
hard to truly determine what's the "red zone" when it comes to having to actually fill up (do I really have 50 miles left...or is it more like 5?). Drama is not what you want out of your gas tank. I've got enough anxiety from just existing, and this is one thing with my driving experience in this car that genuinely makes me anxious. I'm also not a huge fan of the collision warning system, as I find it rather inconsistent, but we'll get into that.
2. Match Between System and the Real World
The design should speak the users' language. Use words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than internal jargon. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
Let's switch gears (pun only slightly intended) to the shifter. Since MINI is now under the BMW umbrella, it makes sense the 2022 model has inherited the same design. If you've driven a BMW, you know exactly what I'm talking about. In essence, the shifting experience is literally in reverse order of what most cars have. Now, I'm not saying that's a flawed design. In fact, I'd be curious to see the research as to why/how that's more efficient, because it just might be. It's definitely not bad, just different, and it takes a little bit of time to get used to.
Other than that, the ignition switch being in the center console rather than where you'd typically see it (right behind the steering wheel) is, again, kitschy but not bad. It's a nod to the British heritage these zippy little things have.
Overall, I think the design has little quirks to it that I'd assume are to be intentionally different. If I had to guess, I'd say this is the brand's valiant attempt at trying to influence a new industry-wide shift to a few typical design patterns. I know MINI collaborated thoroughly with icon incar to create some kickass UX, and the car's unique personality definitely shines through that research.
3. User Control and Freedom
Users often perform actions by mistake. They need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted action without having to go through an extended process.
So, this is an excellent time for me to mention that Pebble is a 7-speed auto-manual...and BOY do I love it. First off, I live in Los Angeles, where driving stick is an absolute panic attack. So that's out for me (just my personal preference), but true automatic is too boring for me. I need mental stimulation with bumper lanes, and that's essentially what Pebble's drivetrain provides. She's got paddle shifters so you can play racecar driver in manual and sport modes, upshift and downshift to your liking (or however you want to play the power band) but with the added protection of the computer coming in as backup so you don't redline. What can I say? The thing shifts like butter and rev matches with or without your help. She's got it, but if you want to take over for a bit, she's more than happy to let you play it up.
4. Consistency and Standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform and industry conventions.
I have a lot of great things to say about the instrument panel. It's high contrast, it's flat and light deflective, very clear and concise information...except for these damn pop-up icons that come up at all random times and disappear just as fast. These icons appear in correlation to the 3 driving modes: green, mid, and sport. Each of the 3 modes has their own subsequent set of alerts. Let's take green, for example. Every so often, I'll see these icons and circles pop-up that I can only imagine indicate something to do with either saving gas or wasting it. Without any English subtitles underneath said iconography and the icons themselves being pretty vague illustrations, it's really anyone's guess as to what they're trying to say...unless you read the manual. But that's the point. I don't want to have to go pick up the manual to go and decipher what my car is trying to tell me. It should be so effortless that I instantly understand what it's telling me, and therefore what it wants me to do in order to solve the problem. I want to work with her, but I unfortunately don't always know how. We're currently working on how to better communicate.
5. Error Prevention
Good error messages are important, but the best designs carefully prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions, or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
I'll focus on MINI's lane collision warning package. This is another set that requires some reading up on the subject. Again, this goes back to the confusing/vague iconography...there's about 4 specific visuals that will appear to either let you know something good or bad related to the cars around you.
Clear to change lanes: small green icon
Not cleared: no visual at all (and therein lies the problem)
Getting too close to someone in front of you: large red icon
Getting WAY too close to someone in front of you: same red icon, just with sound
So here are my concerns with the lane departure setup. For one, anything involving another car means potential for crashes. You need to be so concise with your communications here for obvious, crucial reasons. The default scenario, ideally, is that there is no danger. Therefore, there should either be one of two setups (assuming no accessibility impairments):
a. No alerts for when the driver is clear to change lanes, red iconography with "danger" sound for when turn signal is active and driver is not clear to change lanes
b. Concise alert and accompanying sound for both scenarios as to be explicit when good is good and when bad is bad
Second, for the proximity alerts, again, my concern is consistency in the messaging. If there's an added sound effect that's more of a delayed and secondary message to indicate the difference between being kind of close behind someone and WAY TOO CLOSE, I'm gonna need some visuals of the same severity to get that message across. What if I'm deaf? How would I know the difference between a casual and serious concern? I'd want to see these visuals and sounds be more explicit and consistent, regardless if it had autopilot or not.
6. Recognition Rather than Recall
Minimize the user's memory load by making elements, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the interface to another. Information required to use the design (e.g. field labels or menu items) should be visible or easily retrievable when needed.
Let's focus on MINI's gorgeous 8-inch touchscreen display. The digital information architecture, or how the content is structured, makes total logical sense. Not only is it accessibly by touch, but there's an additional haptic scroll wheel and buttons at arm's level if you'd rather access the content that way. This is an area MINI did an exceptional job in. Drivers need haptic feedback, our love language is physical touch. So, being able to rely on that physical interaction with all the controls in the digital environment paired with a menu that makes sense is just *chef's kiss*.
7. Flexibility and Efficiency of Use
Shortcuts — hidden from novice users — may speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the design can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
My instant thought here is the auto-manual driving experience with the paddle shifters. That's just pure fun right there, but also totally inviting to the "just get me from Point A to Point B" drivers as well.
8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design
Interfaces should not contain information that is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in an interface competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
Where do I begin? MINI and icon incar absolutely KILLED the redesign here.
Pebble's all-black interior and exterior design adds some serious edge to this otherwise toy-car image.
Oh, did I mention the dash has an underglow?
My favorite thing with this car is how exceptionally it uses color to communicate a whole onslaught of information...speed, RPM, temperature, volume, etc...all just on the colored ring that borders the 8-inch screen. To use something as simple as color to communicate so many things really hits the nail on the head in the aesthetic department, but in such a brilliant way to maximize the space.
9. Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no error codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
Ehh, I'm ambivalent here. On one hand, there are certain aspects of where the car really shines with this. PSI, Engine oil level and temp, and a few other mechanical bits and pieces are all communicated through the display with numerical levels and color indicators to alert the user whether or not this number is good or bad.
On the other hand, there's the whole "I'm not really sure if I should change lanes now or not" thing I mentioned with #5...
All the detailed answers are provided in the digital Owner's Manual (see #10), but when it comes to on-the-spot error prevention, I'd like to see some added text as a caption to accompany all these sounds and icons.
10. Help and Documentation
It’s best if the system doesn’t need any additional explanation. However, it may be necessary to provide documentation to help users understand how to complete their tasks.
At the end of the day, the whole user guide is digitally available in the display. I just need to find the time to read through some of these points of confusion. They've even got a built-in MINI concierge you can call if you have even more questions! But seriously, if you're in the software space like I am, you know how important good documentation is. I so appreciate how thorough Pebble's entire Owner's Manual is, how searchable it is, and how interactive it is. If I just vaguely know the issue I'm trying to solve, all I have to do is type in a couple of related terms (very similar to the Google search experience) and I'm met with visual explanations, multiple solutions, and even contact points if I need further help.
I think the biggest stigma with working on your car is that it's hard and confusing...but really, is it? Or did we just not have proper car-driver communication? This is an area where MINI really shines. After all, how can you have a great relationship without solid communication?
Overall, Pebble is an absolute BLAST to drive and so much fun. She's quirky and full of personality. I'd definitely say given her small packaging and nimble handling, take this one out for a day in the canyons...but make sure you fill all the way up first.
Final usability score: 82
Special thanks to Tamar Abrilian for the amazing photography and Kevin Amirkhanian for videography and driving.