Hyundai Design Chief Promises Buttons Will Always Have a Place

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

There’s a growing divide in the automotive community over whether buttons or screens are the better approach to interior design. Automakers seem hellbent on replacing every physical control with a less tactile touch-sensitive button, but at least one has put a stake in the ground for buttons. Hyundai’s head of design recently told journalists that the automaker would continue to use physical buttons for some controls, noting that it’s essential that the driver be able to feel controls for safety and other vital vehicle settings.

“We will continue to have physical dials,” Sang Yup Lee said at the launch of the international Hyundai Kona. When it comes to Level 4 autonomous driving, then we’ll have everything soft key, but until then, as I said, when it comes to driving, it’s safest to have your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.”

Without a tactile feel, drivers often have to look at the touch control they’re about to interact with. That distraction, coupled with the sometimes confusing nature of touch controls, can present safety challenges and extend reaction times,

Lee’s statement is promising to hear at a time when many automakers are cutting buttons completely. Volkswagen infamously replaced physical controls with a fully touch-sensitive system in the new Golf GTI and R but has since backtracked a bit, saying the next versions will have some physical controls. 

[Image: Hyundai]

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Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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4 of 7 comments
  • Kevin Kevin on Mar 20, 2023

    Unless you're a smartphone, you don't need to be a touchscreen. They're only doing it because changing the software running on a screen is cheaper than building different physical switch panels for different vehicle options.

  • Urlik Urlik on Mar 20, 2023

    You’d think VW would have learned from Honda and Cadillac making the same mistake to varying degrees.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Mar 20, 2023

    I wonder what the designer of the 5th-gen Camaro would say about this.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Kwik_Shift_Pro4X on Mar 21, 2023

    I like, because I don't have to look at them. Just by feel and location while driving.