Three doves in close proximity


Since buying the Jeep this past weekend I’ve had one complaint about it. The location of the shifters. For some reason those who designed the Jeep located the transfer case shifter closest to the driver and the transmission shifter furthest from the driver. In the brief 150 miles or so I’ve driven the Jeep I have shifted the transfer case into 4-low two times and into 4-high three times. In that same mileage I haven’t counted how many times I have shifted the transmission. On my way home from work tonight I counted approximately forty-five shifts of the transmission (and I’m sure I missed a few).

What got me writing about this was David Cole‘s excellent article over at Smashing Magazine, Proximity in Design: Why I Can’t Use My Car’s A/C. It sure hit home in relation to my complaint about the shifter location in the Jeep. Yes, my proximity problem is a bit different than David’s but the principle is the same. It’s too bad the end-user and ease-of-use are rarely given the urgency and priority they deserve in the design of things both software and hardware in nature.

Getting back to my shifter problem I struggle to understand how anyone with even a teeny bit of common sense could determine that locating the transfer case shift lever easily within the drivers’ reach and the transmission shifter an arm’s length away is a good idea or will be comfortable for the driver considering the frequency at which each shifter gets used. But then, I once received detailed CAD drawings for the frame and rear suspension from an automotive engineer who chose to run the shock absorbers directly through the frame rails. Yes, I said directly. There were no cutouts or pass through holes in the frame, he just drew them right into the same space the frame rails occupied.

Looking at my shifter complaint and extrapolating the number of shifts I made on my drive home to the total mileage I’ve driven the Jeep I estimate I have shifted the transmission 338 times (most likely a conservative estimate). That’s a ratio of 68:1. For every one time I shift the conveniently located transfer case shift lever I shift the inconveniently located transmission shifter sixty-eight times. Does not compute. Sadly, the Jeep isn’t the only four-wheel drive vehicle that suffers this problem, most have the same layout.

The biggest problem with the design of most things is designers and engineers aren’t users. Designers and engineers don’t think like users. Designers and engineers don’t approach use of the application/tool/appliance like users. I don’t have a solution to the problem. It’s not possible to replace designers and engineers with users and in my experience it’s near impossible to get designers and engineers to think like users. They simply can’t. It’s not their fault, they just aren’t wired like users; that’s what makes them designers and engineers.


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