Figuring out how to best display data once occupied a small portion of Buzyn's time when he conceived an interior. Now, he says: "You can't think of an interior without thinking of those elements."
New information display technologies, touch screens and other gizmos are allowing automotive designers to reimagine center stacks and interiors. Designers say that data displays, and how drivers interact with the data, will have an impact on vehicle interiors.
"This is what people now expect to interact with, all this data," Buzyn said.
With its mammoth 17-inch touch screen, Tesla's Model S may provide the most telling example of how display technologies are changing interior design. All of the car's interior controls -- including climate control, audio systems and navigation -- are consolidated into a central display that fills the vehicle's entire center stack. The car has only two fixed buttons on the dash: one for the hazard indicators and another to open the glove box.
"We wanted to eliminate buttons and switchgear and stuff that makes an interior look old very quickly and not upgradable or transformable," said Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla's chief designer.
By eliminating the fixed knobs, buttons and switches of most interiors, von Holzhausen says he created an interior that could be updated and improved over time.
"We're able to very rapidly input customer demands or experiences that we didn't think of right away and bring those to the marketplace," he said. "That's something we look at as the ability to improve the car over time instead of it depreciating."
In less expensive cars, thinner and lighter touch screens are giving designers more stylistic freedom.
To give the 2014 Mazda3 a more contemporary and sophisticated look inside, Derek Jenkins, Mazda's U.S. design boss, says he wanted a thinner dash with less vertical space than on the outgoing Mazda3. Touch screens in mainstream vehicle segments are often bulky, blockish units with roughly half a foot of hardware hidden behind the screen, he said.
"Imagine all that stacked up on top of heater controls and air vents," Jenkins says. "That's what creates this vertical boombox, which is so prevalent in the lower segments."