App Design Lessons From an Old Car Maker

Over the years when my father-in-law and I would talk about cars, he would invariably remind me that between Chevy, Ford, and Dodge, in his experience, Chevy had always had the most advanced electronics in their vehicles.True, false, or otherwise, I find myself today driving mostly Chevy products, and having a terminal fondness for gadgetry, I suspect these conversations about electronics had more influence on my truck selection process than I realize. I never thought it would end up in a nice little app on my phone.

57 chevy

My most recent Chevy, a 2011 Silverado (not the 1957 “Jeff Gordon edition” shown above), came with a complimentary 1-year subscription to OnStar, and while sitting through the mind-numbing review at the dealership  of how the service works, I noticed on the Onstar web site that they had an app. Great, I thought, now I can track when my ridiculously expensive Onstar calling minutes are going to expire. I should have been more optimistic.

The App

OnStar RemoteLink is a free app that sports 4 basic features (screen shots below):

  1. Current stats on your vehicle, including fuel level, gas mileage, range, oil life, and odometer reading.
  2. Remote control, including starting/stopping the engine, locking/unlocking the doors and activating the lights & horn.
  3. Assistance, which essentially provides speed dial buttons to an Onstar advisor, RoadSide Assistance, and your dealership.
  4. Navigation, which taps into the Onstar Directions and Connections service.

It’s a very easy app to quickly learn and use, and here’s why:

  • The tab bar icons concisely and successfully identify what you’ll find when you press them. This is the first key to the app’s intuitive design.
  • The controls are few and sized for both large and small fingers.
  • The controls are logically arranged.  The words and icons chosen for each button are clear and the buttons are visually paired in the interface by function:  Lock/Unlock;   Remote Start/Cancel Start; Horn & Lights/Stop Horn & Lights.  Whether you prefer text or pictures, the controls are easily and quickly understood.
  • The interface is clean and uncluttered.  You get just the key information you need without visual overload.  I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves.  Make sure to check out the captions.

Take-aways for Designers

RemoteLink is a good app to model for the following reasons:

  • It sets out to do just a few things, but does them really well.
  • The interface is very thoughtfully laid out with just the controls necessary for ease, and speed of use in mind.  It is not festooned with gratuitous graphics (OK…maybe the Chevy bow tie is a bit gratuitous) or unnecessary controls or worse: advertisements.
  • The error messages are clear and understandable to the non-geek mind.
  • And most importantly, after extensive use I can tell you it has obviously been well-tested and is very stable.

Whether or not you’re a app developer, if you own a 2010-2012 Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, or GMC vehicle, you will want to head to the App Store and pick up this App.  As a developer, you can learn a lot from it’s design, and as a car owner, you’ll just plain love what it does for you.

Basic vehicle stats

Pertinent info concisely displayed

Tire pressure

Graphics bring instant clarity to the pressure data

Clean and simpl

Clean and simple remote control

Sadly, OnStar minutes do expire.

Sadly, the minutes do expire

Full really means FULL

Umm…why not tell me how many gallons are in my full tank?