The details of design, when looked at closely, are often fascinating. Things that are taken for granted, but which have had a lot of thought put into them.
The designer Christian Annyas, looks at the evolution of speedometer faces over a 60 year period in his post Chevrolet speedometer design. Above are three samples, of course his post has more.
His comments are also interesting. He ends with the following observation about modern speedometers which strikes me as being quite valid. The modern digital designs he criticizes do seem to place style over function, and in this case the step away from the utility of a needle does seem to be unwarranted.
The design of speedometers hasn’t changed much over the decades. Recently, however, there’s a trend towards digital meters. They’re probably supposed to look fresh and new, but due to the use of stopwatch-like (the digital stopwatch was invented in 1971) typefaces they actually look extremely primitive and dated.
It’s easy for a driver to get used to a needle that rises and passes numbers that are located on fixed positions. A quick glance is all it takes to see and understand the value it represents. With the most recent design it’s different. The value of the ‘stopwatch’ constantly changes while driving. Some characters of the typeface look very similar to others (for instance 0, 6 and 8), which makes it harder to figure out whether you’ll get a speeding ticket or not. Not an ideal situation.