As I reported back in July of 2002, Lexus has a small problem with their RX-300 series transmissions: They have a tendency to go bad if you tow the car any distance. This might not seem like much of a problem to you, but, then, you don’t live in a 40 foot motorhome, travelling the country. To people like us who must drag a car after us, towability is everything.Lexus didn’t know they had a problem when they released the car, so they put a four year warranty on the transmission, specifically certifying it for towing. When the claims started coming in, they downshifted, and, in 2002, pulled all warranty coverage entirely for towing their new vehicles. That’s where these guys stepped in. They make well-reviewed aftermarket products to make untowable vehicles towable. In general, their products are well-engineered and built with solid, reliable components. Unfortunately, their design for the RX-300, while equally well-engineered, is a user-interaction disaster-in-waiting.
The pump runs fluid through the transmission while the car is being towed so the gears do not dry out—the problem Lexus had identified as causing the failures. A small fluid-shunt switch is used to switch between running the transmission fluid through its normal path or running it through the pump. Leave the switch in the wrong position, and you replace the possibility of a transmission failure with a sure thing:
- If the car is towed without the switch in the pump position, no lubrication will take place while the car is being towed.
- If the car is driven with the switch in the tow position, no lubrication will take place in the operating transmission.
- The pump is not powered when the car is driven and, in a static state, blocks the flow of oil.
How do I know about this switch? I had one installed, at Lexus’s suggestion, but with my money, not knowing about the horrifying interface until it was too late and my $1500 was history. What did I do? What any combination human-computer interaction designer/licensed pilot would do: I went through the trouble of labelling the switch (not easy to do), then added it to our regular towing checklist. I would set the switch, I would check the switch, my wife would check the switch. Any normal user would not realize the importance of taking it on themselves to address the problem by labelling the switch and going through the checklists. Even those that went that far might not recognize the importance of having your copilot recheck your results. (That saved us once.) Because the switch is under the hood of the car, no casual glance will let you know you are facing disaster. Calling the company was of no help. The engineer who answered responded that nothing was wrong with the design of the switch that extremely careful operation would not overcome. He’d been using it for months with no problem. The problem could be easily corrected by the manufacturer replacing this manual switch with a solenoid-driven switch that only kicks in when the car has been connected for towing. This would add little to the already high price and would replace certain anxiety and uncertain calamity with a solid, dependable result.
Interaction Design course: Go from zero to interaction designer in just three days. You may be coming in cold from engineering or graphic design. You may already be an interaction designer wanting to "fills in the blanks," establishing a more solid theoretical and practical base. I've aimed this course at all of you, covering the needs of both individual contributors and managers.
Join me as I teach the Apple method and show you how to not only organize for and come up with successful designs, but sell them to engineering and upper management.
It's intensive, yes: A one-semester-equivalent with a strong, real-world bias. However, we have a lot of fun along the way, and you'll leave having worked with a team to design and build a complete project, so you will have not only learned, but experienced everything taught.
User Experience Conference Website There's more than my course at an NN/g conference. You'll find a breadth of other specialized courses and networking opportunities that will put you and your company at the leading edge of the design curve.