With a brand such as Bentley, as well as the history and heritage it embodies, embracing the digital age can be fraught with conflict. Will it suit the look and “feel” of a particular vehicle? Will its intended purpose grow old gracefully or be out of date in a few years?
The design teams aim for a particular look and, in the case of such a brand as Bentley, that look must tie in with what has come before. One key area is that of what the driver will look at every time they slide onto the sumptuously appointed seats of a Flying Spur. The dashboard dials and multimedia interfaces are an area that Graeme Smith and his team of Human Machine Interface (HMI) designers at Bentley have taken on with great success.
Utilizing what is called a “mood board,” Smith and the team lay out the images of what will appear on the digital screen for the Flying Spur. The colors and icons that will be seen are reviewed in conjunction with the main designers at Crewe, the home of Bentley. Critical to the look, says Smith, is choosing to go 2D or use what is called skeuomorphic design. “A Bentley isn’t a smartphone,” he says. “It’s going to be used and cherished for generations. So we chose a skeuomorphic approach that will age with the car. Look at pure digital instrument graphics from ten years ago – they’ve dated faster than the car they were part of.”
It’s a tricky ethos to deal with, he says, as going to a clean, ultra-modern look would be at odds with the history of Bentley, and by using skeuomorphic design, they can be in the digital age and still convey the message that fits with the Bentley presentation. There’s also a requirement to provide a family relationship between the vehicles yet provide a difference. For example, the speedometer and rev counter dials in the Flying Spur have bronze rings, a different hue to those in the Continental GT.
Then there’s the end purpose of the vehicle design to take into consideration. The dials in the Continental GT have a 3D look to the knurled appearance, echoing the look of that car gear selector. The Flying Spur has the outer edges looking akin to a machined appearance, reflecting the Spur’s more luxury-oriented drive, as opposed to the overtly sporting nature of the GT.
Road time is also considered, as in when the car is on the road and the driver’s interest is in simply driving. A reduction in potentially distracting information is provided. In a form of digital detox, the driver can see dials that provide the sheer essentials; fuel gauge levels, the temperature of the engine, local time, the vehicle’s velocity, and the ambient outside temperature. Bentley refers to its own history here, by dimming the dials to the point only the needles are visible and allowing a driver to consider the night time drives at Le Mans, or Woolf Barnato’s legendary night drive through France to beat the Blue Train.
However, the story doesn’t finish there. The final part of the journey in the digital design of the dials is where the Flying Spur will live its life. Will it be in the United States? How about Dubai? Will it be used to chauffeur a Sheikh in Saudi Arabia? The central screen is also part of this equation, meaning that the team must consider something like 600 different icons and over 1,500 varying menu screens.
The different languages (up to 27!) and idioms for the markets are considered, plus the varying market-specific services such as satellite radio, apps such as Android Auto (with final sign-ff to be granted by the owners of the systems themselves), even the three different audio systems from Naim, Bang and Olufsen, and the brand’s own bespoke setup.
It’s here that the HMI team divide the load. There are function owners, nine in total, that work with three graphic designers and focus on a specific area. This can be the climate control, audio settings, the interface that shows fuel consumption.To say Bentley says luxury, it says history, it says motorsport. It takes love and dedication to ensure that the history of Bentley is continued with eyes on the past, and eyes on the future. Graeme Smith and the Human Machine Interface team have those in mind and their eyes look forward with the past firmly in focus.