Blind spot assistance

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The design of organisations and products
Some aspiring reg tech, yesterday.

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On the JC’S annual würstewanderweg[1] trip through the glorious sausage fields of the Ostallgäu, he had occasion to be driving a rental Mercedes — I know, look at you, right? — with a clever feature which symbolises what smart software should be about, but the software that start-ups hawk to legal practices typically isn’t.

Now, about this Mercedes. In the corner of each rear-vision mirror is a little red triangle, artfully engineered into the glass. This is designed to monitor your blind spot. It lights up whenever one of those enormous Beamers you see on the autobahn is about to roar past in the outside lane at 200 klicks. Should you indicate left while the light is illuminated, it squeaks — calmly, not stridently — but with enough alarm to induce a moments’ reflexive hesitation, during which time a monstrous BMW thunders past.

Now, I don’t mean to deride the technology involved to make this gadget work — doubtless, there is plenty of it, and it is of the first order — but what this thing sets out to do is simple, limited, and extremely effective. The design is excellent: it requires no training: the first time you encounter it you know immediately what it is for, and what it means. The light comes on for as long as there is a car in your blind spot. You can head off the idea that you might pull out just by glancing at your mirror. You probably even pick it up in your peripheral vision when you’re not looking at the mirror.

The warning is proportionate and immediate, it doesn’t complicate the driving experience, and it isn’t distracting. When you need it, it’s there; when you don’t, it isn’t. It doesn’t overreach: it doesn’t try to drive the car for you or tell you how to do your job; it doesn’t try to substitute its judgment for yours; it says “there’s a simple job you are naturally disposed to be bad at. You can continue to do it, but if you are getting it wrong, I am going to let you know.”

Reg tech firms: take note. Solve simple, little irritating problems. Leave the complex stuff to your users. They quite enjoy that.

See also


  1. Literally, “The Sausage Trail”