In-Tech supports the development of operating concepts

In-Tech supports the development of operating concepts
Written by insideindyhomes

A poorly designed consumer device is annoying, but not a disaster. An industrial plant, the control of which invites operating errors, yes. The combination of digital technology and growing requirements means that more importance is now being attached to operating concepts and user interfaces. However, a good user experience does not happen by itself – it is the result of targeted, methodical work.

Michaela Wilhelm, Head of Usability & Design and Digital Solutions at In-Tech GmbH in Munich/Garching

When machine builders and external application developers come together, completely different worlds sometimes collide. For the latter, “form follows function” is a sweaty challenge that has to be worked hard. For some clients, on the other hand, it seems to be a law of nature, because in their opinion it is sufficient to develop software according to functional aspects – the appealing user interface then results more or less automatically. Other manufacturers, on the other hand, have already recognized that their previous developments no longer meet the usability requirements of their customers. They are therefore specifically looking for external support in the development of new user interfaces.

One aspect is more frequent internal coordination between customer and manufacturer, which ensures that development is more closely aligned with the desired result. This is part of the agile way of working according to SCRUM, according to which interim results or demos are presented every two to three weeks, which the customer evaluates and approves or sends to the revision loop. This way, no time is wasted when the development is not going according to the customer’s ideas, and also avoids unproductive discussions at the end of the project.

Inner values ​​count

With this “skinning”, i.e. the sole focus on an attractive appearance, manufacturers rob themselves of an important competitive advantage. A sophisticated operating concept gives a machine an unmistakable personality, and the matching user interface complements it with an appropriate appearance. More exclusive, special concepts create potential for differentiation that leaves a lasting impression on the user. Because it’s less about whether a user interface is “pretty” to look at. Aspects of user experience come first for him:

  • Can the device or machine be operated intuitively (usability)?
  • Are unnecessary actions avoided?
  • Do the structure and design ensure reliable, error-free functioning?
  • Which user interfaces are actually available?

If the operating concept shows deficiencies, there is a risk of efficiency losses or even incorrect operation. In more complex controls, this can occur, for example, when labels are missing or too small, switching to the submenu does not lead to the desired page, or a control option has been implemented in an unexpected place. The task of the UX experts is to think from the user’s point of view and to develop an operating concept that proves itself in daily use – without many clicks, without having to think long and hard.

Importance of UX and UI

The classic HMI is usually no longer sufficient for customers today, given the breadth of technical possibilities. The internal developers repeatedly reach their limits. Even the permanently installed screen on the machine today offers many more options: from a simple touch screen to a multi-touch display that also understands gestures, even when working with protective gloves.

Such an operating concept can be transferred to tablets and smartphones. But different display sizes and page formats represent further hurdles that have to be overcome. Alternatives such as voice control or motion detection – for example in connection with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) – are also popular options that play a role in the development of an operating concept today. And a UX designer must also consider the downsides of this diversity: Operation must be consistent for the user, regardless of whether he operates the machine on site via the touchscreen or remotely via an app.

The graphic design of the user interface must be considered separately. This also contributes to better usability: the shape, color and position of the visual elements play a role. An emergency stop button right next to the confirmation button, which is pressed umpteen times a day, entails the risk that accidentally slipping off the touchscreen will lead to costly consequences. The task of the UI designer is therefore to communicate with the user via the visual design and to draw their attention. They also make an important contribution to efficient usability.

Structured process model

A structured process is required to achieve a good user experience and usability. That is why the usability experts are already involved in the initialization and planning of the overall project. Based on project goals and the available time and cost budget, you decide which methods are used and how the schedule is designed.

A process model is recommended here that includes the areas of UX and software technology from the outset. As part of this check phase, various aspects of the system are examined in structured workshops, starting with requirements, through existing software architectures to the users and their tasks.

The workshops are followed by an analysis phase, which is difficult to depict in classic catalogs of requirements are the everyday workflows of the users – these in particular require a precise analysis in order to ensure intuitive usability.

implementation phase

The creation of the design solution then begins, initially with wireframes and low-fidelity prototypes, in order to be able to carry out initial user tests, for example with click dummies, at a very early stage.

At the same time, a software team is already starting with basic preparations that are still independent of the user interface. In contrast to consumer devices, industrial systems are operated for many years, which is why the selection of technologies and frameworks is of crucial importance so that the solution remains maintainable and expandable for many years. Especially with limited hardware resources, performance problems during operation can otherwise lead to poor UX. This must be taken into account from the start when creating the software architecture.

If it is left to the programmers to develop an operating concept, not only does the project time increase – in the worst case, the final solution does not meet the requirements of the users. An example: The software developers took part in user training as part of a project. You should create a new user interface for a measuring device and first familiarize yourself with the previous software. This revealed the problem: The programmers got along very well with the previous user interface. However, the actual users, trained electricians, could not operate the devices correctly.

When the result is there and all customer requirements are met, one or the other client forgets how many steps this goal was taken in and whether “form follows function” isn’t a law of nature after all.

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