The Porsche 911: The Car With the Worst Ergonomic Design

Updated on February 24, 2017
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years.

Introduction

I have owned about 8 or 9 different cars over my life so far of various makes and models. I recently came in contact with an old model Porsche 911 convertible of 1999 vintage. By far, it is one of the worst-designed cars. I will describe some of the highlights.

- Dec. 2016

Background

When I was attending college back in the 1970s, I took a course in biomedical engineering. The biggest topic at the time was ergonomic design. People were beginning to realize that they could design furniture and equipment that is more efficient and usable by humans: things like how a dial should look to make it easier for humans to read and interpret.

Ever since then, I have always been conscious of things around me. Tools and furniture and machines all have a user interface. Later on, as I got into computers, the natural extension is to GUI design. The way a screen is laid out with controls and images and buttons and symbols and icons and the colors as well. All these can either help or hinder the human user.

These studies have lead the industry to some common design practices or standards that make it easier for new products. Apparently, not everyone was clued in on this. I will use the Porsche 911 convertible as a prime example of a poorly designed system.

Some Problems with the Porsche 911...

My comments and observations are only for the 1999 model year. I can't speak to other models or years of the Porsche, though I am pretty sure some of them apply equally.

  • The ignition key is located on the left side of the steering column. Most other cars have the ignition key located to the right of the steering column and for very good reason. Most people are right-handed. For some unknown reason, the Porsche seems to be designed for left handers. As a south paw myself, I can't believe it. I disagree with this totally. When a person gets into a car, and wants to start the engine, he automatically reaches with his right hand and key and look for the ignition switch - on the right side.
  • There is no glove compartment. The space is used for the passenger's air bag. There seems to be enough space there for both and yet, the designer decided to remove the glove compartment all together. Where do you put the driver registration and insurance card? Or the emergency flash light?
  • No space between the car seat back and the rear compartment. One cannot reach into the car from the outside to retrieve an item placed in the back seat. A very inconvenient design.
  • The rear window is made of plastic. It is a convertible after all; however, it is a safety hazard when after a few years, the plastic degrades and start to yellow and become less transparent. This is unacceptable. One cannot tradoff safety for convenience feature.
  • Regular maintenance such as oil change is a big deal. You cannot go to any Jiffy Lube to get it done. Apparently, it requires some special part that only the dealer can perform.
  • The engine is located in the rear while the trunk is located in the front. This is also a bad design from a safety point of view. In a front end collusion, which is the most common accidents, the driver and passenger is safer when there is an engine block between the people and the obstruction.
  • The latch to release the trunk is electrified. Combined with the fact that the battery is also located in the trunk, this violates the first law of mechanical design: never have a mechanism electrified without a manual override. In this scenario, when your battery dies, you cannot open your trunk to recharge your battery. I have seen youtube videos teaching people how to open the trunk of a Porsche after the battery dies. Really?
  • The tires have a factory-keyed lug nut that is there to prevent theft. The problem occurs when you have a flat tire and you misplaced the key socket. Time to call the AAA for an expensive toll. You just spent the money you try to saved by avoiding theft of the tires.
  • There is no indicator on the dash board for the gear shift. This car has a 6 speeds shift and reverse. It is an odd configuration. Without an indicator, in the dark, one cannot see which gear is where.

Summary

I was under the impression that German engineering was the top in the world. After seeing first hand the design of the Porsche 911, I have to disagree. Whoever designed this car should be fired for incompetence.

One rule of design is a simple one: make the designer use his own product for a period of time. It will force him to rethink some features that may have sounded good in theory but failed miserably in practice. The Porsche 911 belongs in the history books as an example of the failed ergonomic car of all time.

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    © 2016 Jack Lee

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