Over the last two years, we've witnessed a seachange in motorcycle instrument clusters as OEMs move from physical dials and simple LCD displays to Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD displays. These screens, while not new technology, are new to motorcycles and allow manufacturers to utilize every pixel, color range and motion possibility.
The problem we see is that they are using every pixel, color and motion possibility.
Our Harley Davidson interface (left) with the existing Harley Davidson Street 750 interface
But, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Motorcycle manufacturers are making the mistake of their automotive counterparts, leaning into excess without understanding what riders want and need to see at any given moment.
This piece is written for riders, by riders. And, while there are many technical and regulatory considerations in the design of vehicle clusters, the following points represent greater truths that will improve the rider experience.
Reduce complexity, increase context
Ducati Monster 821, 2018 with our interface
A quick audit of current motorcycle clusters reveals how much information is shown to riders all at once. This information deluge forces riders to search for information, taking their eyes off the road for precious seconds. In London, motorcyclists make up 27% of deaths or serious injury despite representing less than 1% of trips in London - improving cluster design can reduce these statistics and even save lives. OEMs should employ adaptive hierarchies with contextual empathy to display information according to what is most needed by the rider.
2017 Triumph Street Triple
For example, when starting a motorcycle, a screen could show the system check that fades into a fuel gauge and gear indicator if everything is in order, revealing an uncluttered interface. Further, with the kickstand down and the bike in neutral, the rider hardly needs to know they are not moving. Instead, use this case to display something useful like range to empty, distance to fuel or even a weather report.
Design for "Glanceability"
Motorcyclists face great challenges to simply seeing their instrument cluster - limited field of vision from a helmet, rain and even vibrations all create design challenges.
In designing a motorcycle cluster, standard user interface elements really matter – typeface choices can reduce glance time by 10% and lowercase vs. uppercase letters dramatically increase readability of presented words - this time saved could equate to a shorter stopping distance, for example, saving the lives of a pedestrian or rider.
Remember Your brand
Biking is about the marriage of passion and functionality - this connects deeply to branding. Ducati owners will speak passionately about their bike's styling and handling while BMW owners will speak about their efficiency and functionality. This is a brand conversation with riders and it must extend into the cluster design.
The above images are two very different bike interfaces, with very different needs.
There are, of course, many restrictions around use of color which can hinder branding and not all brands use the most glanceable of fonts that lend themselves to instruments. That said, not considering the manufacturers brand, and even the colorways of the bike itself, in the design of a cluster is a missed opportunity.
The application of these straightforward principles across motorcycle instrument clusters has the possibility to offer riders more relevant information in a safer and brand-true way that deepens a rider's connection to their bike and the manufacturer that built it.