Is having a giant screen really a good design?

Is having a giant screen really a good design?

Try to divorce your love of Tesla and the green movement for a second and see if this makes sense. Do we really want a giant screen to distract us from the task of driving, now you might have heard "studies" about how it doesn't but think about it, would anyone admit to being distracted while driving that caused an accident? How can you prove this...very difficult. Most drivers would probably take blame for this because of their love of Tesla.

Having buttons and nobs might be old school but it's more tactile and often allows you to keep your focus on the road knowing exactly where the volume button is, or the sunroof. Having a giant screen forces you to look at the screen, tap several times to get to your location, then tap or slide your finger on a precise location, or tap multiple times to adjust volume or setting. With buttons its a push or turn for the same task, having a giant screen could take several more steps taking your attention away from the road.

It doesn't take much to cause an accident, a young child darting out onto the road, a driver running a red light. Most of the demos are done while the cars are stationary, if you're a passenger would you feel at ease knowing the driver's attention is not on the road? worse if the driver's alone he'll have a higher chance of an accident, at least if you're a passenger you can help.

I understand it's more convenient to have a computer to control all aspects of the car, having over the air updates to add additional features is great, I'm glad the Tesla S is the safest car ever tested because somehow I have a feeling it's going to need to be one day for some unlucky owner.

emoflash | September 29, 2013

All the features on the screen can be accomplished in the steering wheel except for internet and home link

tomkist | September 29, 2013

Yes, nearly all of the controls can be accessed on the steering wheel, but I find it easier and faster to access many of them on the touch screen. The scroll wheel just isn't that precise.

I'm with jonbones on this one; I miss my Mazda 6 that was quite intuitive for finding your controls without taking your eyes off the road. Better than than Model S and my BMW X1.

carlk | September 29, 2013

Touch screen or buttons and keypad, iPhone or Blackberry. Blackberry had 49% market share of smart phone in 2007 and down to 1% this year. That should give you some idea what people prefer.

GDH | September 29, 2013

Poor Blackberry.

defmonk | September 29, 2013

Why assume a big screen is more distracting than a bevy of switches, buttons and indicators? The size of the touchscreen aids readability and it's much easier to parse on the fly. Very little hunt and peck, as there is on my ICE. Most of the common functions, like setting and confirming a destination or making a phone call, are far easier (and, therefore, safely executed) in my Tesla.

bradslee | September 29, 2013

It is a matter of how one is used to a design. Because most ICE autos are designed with buttons, people are used to them. However, even if the later model of luxury ICE autos have replaced small screen for GPS or other functions with bigger screen and have promoted that change as an improvement. I do not think that MS giant touch screen will cause more distraction than operating buttons in an ICE auto when you are driving.

GEB | September 29, 2013

I found a similar thread on the Internet from 1930 with the same argument for not putting AM radios in cars. Give it up, and at least move on into the current century. :-)

DJung | September 29, 2013

well, people aren't supposed to be using the touchscreen while driving in the first place. But it's still much less distracting than Mercedes' interface where you have to move the cursor with the little scroll. On the Tesla, you just glance and tap. at any rate, please drive responsibly and use common sense and your best judgement.

carlk | September 29, 2013

Yes almost all modern cars have touch screen navigation system with small hard to see touchscreen.

portia | September 29, 2013

yes, it's a great design.

A driver can be distracted by anything, don't play with the screen while you are driving. use the thumbwheels on the steering wheel. use some common sense. Anyone can do stupid things in a car, screen or not. The UI in the Tesla is one of the best, more natural, intuitive there is, and the huge screen is part of what makes it a great 21st century car!

riceuguy | September 29, 2013

By choosing to show whatever you use most, and where to show it, I find it much more intuitive!

jcaspar1 | September 29, 2013

Seems much less distracting and more intuitive than many european designs like the BMW iDrive where numerous glances away from the road are needed to accomplish a simple task.

jeffsstuff | September 29, 2013

Part of the problem is, you need to know when you can and when you can't use the screen. For instance, what if I'm a passenger and my wife is driving (this happens quite often). I could be entering a destination to the navigation system while she's driving.

Now, one of the reasons I'm scrapping my Lexus for a Tesla is the fact that on my Lexus, I can't do anything with the navigation system while the vehicle is in motion. Moreover, when I complained (the dealer lied about this limitation) they were completely unwilling to fix the problem, compensate me for the fraud they committed, or in any other way address it.

Want to see how many people want access to a big touchscreen? Go to

The point is, it's often safe to use and the driver can decide when that is and when it isn't. And it is quite often safe for a passenger to use as well.

It comes down to this. We, as drivers, are ultimately responsible for the safe operation of our vehicles.

Some people claim that using a cell phone (even with a hands-free device) is distracting. The problem with that is, by the same definition, so is talking to the person sitting next to you, the children in the backseat, or listening to the radio. There is a point where we have to give up some safety for practicality.
I'm not saying to be reckless, I mearly saying that there's a point where you can take safety to extremes that are impractical. We could, for instance, limit the speed of the vehicles to, say… 55 mph. How many people would buy that car?

DallasTXModelS | September 29, 2013

With one large screen with 4 sections that replaces the stack in most cars so much more of the controls are available and always in the same place so you really don't have to take your eyes off the road to find the control you need. Cars with one small screen with 8 hard buttons down each side that replaces navigation, radio, HVAC, phone, audio and other system settings takes your eyes off the road more often and takes far more brain time to remember which buttons to push to get to the screen that has the controls that you need.

Also the stack design can be changed to improve ease of use and to add controls for future systems an options just by a simple software download.

TMCproud | September 29, 2013

Like any new exceptional tool, it is all about intelligent use.... End of story; end of thread...

shop | September 29, 2013

Is it a good idea/design? Yes. I'd suggest trying it before criticizing it.

jeffsstuff | September 29, 2013
AlMc | September 29, 2013

It was a bit distracting/entertaining when I first got my S but I find it is less so now. It is a great feature and I am sure that you will see it on many other manufacturers cars moving forward.

jjaeger | September 29, 2013

Not distracting in the least. Have the Tesla clock on the top half (don't personally fixate on the second hand moving) and usually Media in the bottom half - assuming I am not using the Nav. Not much distraction with either - and car controls (HVAC et al) are now second nature to hit and adjust. Delta off standard ICE set-ups for me is now immaterial.

SBerg | September 29, 2013

The screen is not distracting at all and is far more intuitive than the cluster-f%#*+# of knobs and buttons I run into with rental cars.
Might be just me but it doesn't appear the OP is a Tesla owner/driver, has not replied and feels more like a troll.

redacted | September 29, 2013

I'm with @hanleym14. We're adults here. Tesla treats us like adults, we should act like adults.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@SBerg, I havn't responded because the post was put up only a few hours ago but here's my response. Seems there are 2 camps, those who are in love with their Model S or Elon Musk and will overlook any shortcomings the car might have and to those, no matter what anyone says, they will not and can not change your pov so I won't even try and good luck with your automobile.

For the rational few who read this, I'm not proposing they get rid of the giant screen at all, I think it has many merits, all the obvious ones such as readability, updates, intuitiveness, it's all true, however, to think people won't use the giant touch display simply because of the 2 small instrument clusters at the wheel is naive. Most of the smaller functions like volume you can probably control with the steering wheel but for most other features like climate control, air conditioning, sunroof, media, navigation, especially the navigation.

For those who've compared the smartphone trend to the Model S, you're not going 80 mph walking down the street with your iPhone, and many still prefer the tactile feel of keys for typing. I'm merely suggesting perhaps Tesla could add a few dedicated buttons along with the touch screen.

Yes the screen is divided into 4 sections allowing you to mix and match the areas to your desire, and this meas an adjustable UI, and some of you are saying that's even easier than to have SOME fixed buttons when the controls don't even stay the same place... that's a funny argument to me. Some even mentions about rental cars... which is plain absurd.

It's not only about "intelligent use" most accidents are caused beyond your control, you could be the best driver but a short distraction is that's needed. Being spacially aware of your surroundings and using defensive driving takes concentration. Look, no one is suggesting they dumb it down to knobs and switches, I'm merely wondering if there was a better compromise or is this the perfect and only way to design the control panel.

Don't forget the full web browser and keyboard...I'm sure every single Tesla driver won't be using that while driving or are so intelligent as to use it in such a way they can never ever be distracted if for a moment.

...hold off you know what lets throw a rear facing camera in there also in case I want to see who's driving BEHIND.

celtrog | September 29, 2013

No offense
But what a silly thread....
It is what it is....
If you don't like it buy something else

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@celtrog what a silly post, if you don't like the thread don't contribute to it. | September 29, 2013


First, you acknowledge there are "studies" that debunk you premise, but choose to pursue it anyway...seems a bit odd.

Second, as several of the threads on this forum show, people are more than happy to throw their Tesla, TM, Elon and pretty much anything else under the bus instead of taking responsibility for their actions.

As with anything, a large display is not inherent good or bad, it depends on the designers and who good they are. Personally, I like the Tesla approach because it eliminates the visual clutter and allows me to pick only the things that are important to me and eliminate the rest.

I also find the MS display much more readable (maybe its my older eyes) but with this like the map, its much more readable than the 7" display in amy Jeep, so I spend less time looking at it.

Finally, as other folks have pointed out, I can configure my thumbwheel for most functions--for example, I have my right thumbwheel configured to open and close the sunroof.


jonbones | September 29, 2013

@redacted yes adults can never have an accident or be distracted, if you're intelligent and use the UI responsibly, you can never ever be distracted.... right.

olanmills | September 29, 2013

Yes, it's an awesome design. It's up to individuals to not do something stupid like try to type in an address while driving 60 miles an hour just as it is dumb to surf the web on your phone while driving or something.

In terms of the normal car stuff, like turing on climate control, etc, it's really no different than other cars in terms of distraction factor.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@omarsultan Do you believe studies tell you the whole story? have you investigated any of them or choose to believe every study you read...

There are those who will throw people under a bus and there are those who will also worship the very ground Musk walks on like Jesus Christ the savior, you have people from both sides.

That's fine if you love the UI design, but its not about the UI or design, you're missing the whole point, it's that its a potential distraction to some, not saying everyone as each individual is different, some are capable of multitasking some aren't. If you're one of those multitaskers then good for you. I hope you'll never be distracted enough to have an accident, but it's not inconceivable to think there are others who might not be so lucky and can't multitask or program their steering wheel, when VCR's came out some couldn't set the time on those things so, should we tell all of those they can't buy a Tesla or are you going to be high and might and say well that's the way it is if you don't like it don't buy it we're not changing it.

Low CG | September 29, 2013

The answer is YES. Just rented a Ford today. There were no less than 2 dozen switches and buttons . . . and the functionality was befuddling. I LONGED for that big simple touch screen on my Model S.

jonlivesay | September 29, 2013

After three months of driving the car, I find the big screen o be nearly invisible to me. I have the bottom half with energy use and the top half with media. I don't really use it to play while I'm driving, who would? Driving the car is too much fun! Navigation on the screen is distracting so I use it on the left side of my dash, which gives me a nice 3-d picture which I find more useful. I do use the big screen for setting my charging, which is done in my garage so danger there. I set up my list of music to play before I get on the road, so no distraction or danger there. If I come to a song I want to skip I just toggle on my steering wheel, no distraction because it's all done by feel. No sane person would drive and surf the net, that would cause accidents, give people some credit in this regard. A lot of people worry about the interior being more complicated and therefore distracting, I find it to be just the opposite, easy to use and not distracting to me. Passengers think its really cool, but that wears off quickly.

olanmills | September 29, 2013

"should we tell all of those they can't buy a Tesla or are you going to be high and might and say well that's the way it is if you don't like it don't buy it we're not changing it."

Seriously, what you are you talking about now? The answer is yes, if you don't like it, don't buy it. It doesn't come in any other form, so what are you hoping for? It's not being "high and mighty" to say that's the way it is, because in this case, that really is the way it is.

"There are those who will throw people under a bus and there are those who will also worship the very ground Musk walks on like Jesus Christ the savior, you have people from both sides."

And in this discussion, you seem to imply that there's no one in between.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@jonlivesay I hear what you're saying and I hope people don't get me wrong, I love Tesla and what they're trying to achieve. I'm merely posing the question not criticizing it but somehow for the devoted, it seems like just posing a question means you're somehow knocking it, like if you question religion. I guess to some Musk is as close to a savior as Jesus.

Having said that, I applaud you for being a responsible driver and mastering all the controls of the car. You don't think people will drive and occasionally glace at the giant screen to see the news or stocks or look for a restaurant or look for a telephone number not in their address book?

Again I'm not advocating replacing the screen for knobs and switches, just some type of compromise rather than dig through multiple levels. Take the door locks for example you can not unlock just the driver's side, just to unlock the doors you need to dig through the menus.

hyperarmor | September 29, 2013

jonbones -

I understand your point, the giant touch screen of the car may be distracting to some, or let's face it, many. However, is there a modern car with all its buttons that the same people would have any less trouble using without taking their attention off the road? Even for the small set of buttons (and limited functionality) on the interface of my old Corolla, I can't say reaching over to change the volume or to choose a new station on the radio was never a distraction. Personally, I feel the same as the other posters, that the MS does give a great way to control the most of the car's many functions from the steering wheel or via voice commands. Of course, confirming a navigation route while driving will require attention to the screen, but a) every car with navigation has this problem, and b) if one wants to use it safely, he/she should use it while stopped. If the car had more buttons, I truly don't believe that they would be used any more safely.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@olanmills The point I was trying to make was the more distractions you have in a car the higher the likelihood of an accident, doesnt' take much time. Take texting, the user can glace up and down and boom. In a moment's notice you could be caught. Why do you even need a web browser in the car anyway if you're not going to surf, are you going to surf in your parking lot? you'd rather stay in your car with a lousy 3G connection rather than wifi? even with wifi why would you want to surf in your car when most of the time you'll be driving alone. Point is... people WILL surf while they drive if to check for an address, or restaurant or stocks or whatever. It's naive to think every single driver will never ever use the web while driving, stuck in traffic, esp LA traffic.

Not saying there's no in between at all.

SheldonCooper | September 29, 2013

...hold off you know what lets throw a rear facing camera in there also in case I want to see who's driving BEHIND.

You mean like a shiney glass surface mounted up on the windshield that reflects the view behind you ...
aka rear-view mirror?

jonbones | September 29, 2013


"I can't say reaching over to change the volume or to choose a new station on the radio was never a distraction."

I'd say the moment you reach and can feel the button you're good, in fact you won't even need to look you can feel the button and keep your eyes on the road, volume is usually round. Where as a touch screen you have to look because there are no tactile knobs, you have a few extra steps to do the same. That's all I'm saying.

Buttons aren't interesting to look at, once you know where they are it's there and doesn't change whereas the screen you're constantly having to adjust the UI depending on the functionality you're looking for, toggling between screens flipping positions, having to drill down to menus to change the door lock, sunroof. Going between steering wheel and screen, programming the steering while, looking and the onboard dash... so many different areas to vie for your attention, that's all I'm saying.

Is this the absolute best way to go is the original question.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@SheldonCooper it's actually better having a mirror higher up because you can still see ahead with your peripheral vision. Having it down below cuts your vision significantly esp on your blind spot.

olanmills | September 29, 2013

"The point I was trying to make was the more distractions you have in a car the higher the likelihood of an accident, doesnt' take much time."

Except no one has been able to convince me that the Model S console actually is more distracting than a regular car other than saying, "OMG! Big screen!"

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@olanmills The car fully equipped is over 100k, so it can be assumed most of the buyers are not morons. Having said that, it could be one reason there are less incidents, but moving forward should the concept be ported to the 3rd or 4th generations then you might see more.

You really don't need a "study" to tell you, it's up to you to decide because you're the only person that counts and if you don't feel its a distraction then great, but its not inconceivable to believe that it could be for some. If so how could be minimize this or is this the absolutely the only way to go.

GDH | September 29, 2013

Just because I am bored.

I am sure someone jackass at some point will file a complaint that the screen caused them to crash.

jonbones | September 29, 2013

Looks like the NHTSA feels the same:'Distraction'+Guidelines+for+Automakers

Roamer@AZ USA | September 29, 2013

Love the Tesla control system and have zero issue with it.

Weird to have people that have not used it trying to talk about it. I find button and knob cars to be very irritating. I have to put on my reading glasses and lean closer to the buttons to find the one I need from the hundreds of buttons.

With the Tesla display I can easily see and operate all the car functions with no need for reading glasses. A major improvement in safety for me.

Drove a top of the line Mercedes the other day and couldn't wait to get out of it. Could not read the small print on any of the buttons. Had to keep pulling over, putting on my reading glasses and spending ten minutes try to find the buttons for fan speed or radio volume. Miserable.

Drove a BMW 760 with I drive before the Tesla. All the auto mags dissed the idrive, I loved it and the Tesla has way improved it.

AC control in the Tesla is killer cool. Never have to mess with it. Totally automated only thing you need to adjust is the temp you want and that control is always in the same spot and easy to change.

Absolutely love the automation and fast simple ease of use.

Don't question things you know nothing about.

tomkist | September 29, 2013

In product design, you learn that you anticipate misuse and try to add features to help the consumer avoid misuse, or improve ease of use (raised features on "F" and "J" come to mind).

To make the controls easier in my Model S, I would:
1. Dedicate a button/slider to the sunroof. Unless I have my right scrollwheel dedicated to it, it's a pain.
2. Put a dimple or other feature on the frame of the screen to help locate the temperature control.

Outside of Screen vs. Button debate, but other ways to make the controls more intuitive:
3. Put the turn signal in a more normal place. 9 o'clock instead of 7:30. You get used to it, but transitioning back in a rental car is a distraction.
4. Reduce the thickness of the steering wheel (it blocks view of some of the screen in my setup).

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@4rhansen Is it possible to assume that once you learn the functionality of buttons that you no longer need to "read" them or do you suffer from short term memory loss to the point where you need to read it each time you drive?

If you're driving a new car sure, but once you learn it it's done and it usually doesn't take 10 mins to find the fan speed, have you tried asking the owner of the vehicle that might have saved you time.

"Don't question things you know nothing about."

It is precisely because I want to learn that I question. It's interesting how Tesla drivers become defensive merely from a question, it's like people questioning a religion. How dare you question us... well sir, it's not inconceivable that the screen can be a distraction for some, in fact the NHTSA above also believes it to be the case which is why they've proposed changes. This isn't a knock on Tesla, it's trying to prevent accidents. Do I own a Tesla? I do not, but I have been in one and have first hand experience driving one but I realize it's different than owning one day to day. That's irrelevant because you don't need to own one to realize that screen can be a possible distraction to some.

James- | September 29, 2013

Most of the time I have the large display set to:
1) Rear view camera at the top as I use this to supplement the mirrors and looking over my shoulder to provide additional warning as well as anti blind spot. I find it particularly useful on highways.
2) Map on the lower half. It would be good if visibility was enhanced, particularly re street names plus the additional of speed limits but that aside it seems the obvious thing to keep live.

Other occasional functions:
- Choosing media before I drive.
- Using the car controls re height and sunroof.

The heating controls are great, I do change the temperature between 68F and 71F depending on how I feel and passenger preference (I am in San Jose, CA, area).

jonbones | September 29, 2013

@James I'm curious to know if you ever use the center dash (smaller) section for the navigation?

James- | September 29, 2013

@jonbones Yes it is excellent. When using the navigation I mainly use the small screen guide but also use the large screen to complement it as the different view can help in some situations.

Roamer@AZ USA | September 29, 2013

Jonbones ,
I am so excited that the brain dead Federal Government might want to stifle innovation. If we followed the idiots in the government and their incompetent inefficiency we would all be driving Yugo's or Tribants. Please mr government help protect me from myself because I am not capable of thinking without your help.

Luxury cars are so button driven it is impossible to operate them without constantly searching the dash for the little button you need.

I also find the map size to be a huge safety factor. I know long before I reach a decision point or intersection exactly what action I will take or lane I need to be in. The little screen display on the dash will give me the lane configuration long before I reach the exit ramp so I know exactly what lane to be in for the freeway I want. What a major advance in auto safety. It even displays what the signs will look like before I get to the decision point. What an unbelievable advance in driving safety. No more diving across six lanes at the last minute because you didn't know what was coming up. All automated and requiring no user input.

I usually drive with the camera on top and the map on the bottom. Love the large wider angle rear view. Remember when JC Whitney used to sell giant panoramic rear view mirrors. You can see 180 degrees of rear view. What a huge advanced in automotive safety. At night I can even check brake light function to know my lights are working and at what point they are activating. Nice to be able to verify brake and turn signal function.

No need to be fiddling with map apps on a phone or iPad, it's all displayed on the screen. Never have to be distracted with a handheld device.

Again I can tell from your comments you have little understanding or functional knowledge of the system and how it's used.

Even the sunroof comment is silly. You touch the lower left corner of the panel with no need to look at it then you touch the open position you want, takes one tenth of a second. With my button car I haver to reach over my head, out of sight then feel around for the button then hold the button the entire time it's opening then look up to see if opened what I wanted. Means hand on the roof of the car for several seconds to just open the roof. Tesla is touch touch and done In less that a half a second. Can see the open position on the screen. Fast easy and clean and never had to reach or look up at the roof. Again if you had experience with the technology you would know how it works.

Roamer@AZ USA | September 29, 2013

My turnoff is coming up so I need to stop typing on the in car web browser.

Brian H | September 29, 2013

Provides large virtual buttons for those who don't see too clearly. ;D