Date of this Version


Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Published Version.

Mitchell, M. (2010). The development of automobile speedometer dials: A balance of ergonomics and style, regulation and power. Visible language, 44(3), 331-366.

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2010 HERDC submission. FoR Code: 120300

© Copyright Visible Language, 2010

Reproduced with permission.


This paper explains the historical development of analogue and digital speedometer dial designs using the linguistics theory base of pragmatics, which asks researchers to explain a visual design by describing its purpose as well as how its various visual features meet people¿s needs, how people read dials and how people use dials to coordinate with one another or machines. The paper is useful for researchers interested in methodologies for studying the development of language-like visual communication, and for those interested in the history of information graphics, machine interfaces or speedometer dials in particular. A range of dial designs from the early 1900s to the current day are described and analyzed. In this paper, results show that drivers read speedometers to avoid fines, keep safe, change gears, set cruise control or record high speeds. Designs also, however, serve marketing and aesthetic purposes. Features of analogue displays are described with the paper concluding with a taxonomy of dial features. The entire system of speed containment could be improved since even with easy-to-read dials, drivers continue to speed. Dials that work with satellite systems to continually display the current speed limit may be the way of the future.



This document has been peer reviewed.


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