UX is the new UI

IIoT technology has evolved to the point that self-serve solutions are easier to configure, with personalized

smart industry iot iiot industrial internet of things digital transformation

Factora Solutions' Barry Lynch

display mash-ups and data analytics.

Who needs that data-scientist system designer?!

Not so fast. There’s a flipside to this build-your-own-world. The flexibility of the new self-serve technology is both its strength and its weakness, as you must determine who will help develop the most intuitive interface, design and data management for your system.  

UI vs UX…which is which?

I’ve been swimming in the waters of User Interface (UI) design and User Experience (UX) for the past 20 years. I’ve seen, repeatedly, the improvement in operator take-up and plant performance that comes from systems with an intuitive interface.

But first, let’s review the distinction between UI and UX, as some still find these terms confusing.

UX is the big picture—the blend of design, usability and architecture. It means designing for users, for people; making the end-to-end experience intuitive and, thereby, pleasant to use.

UI is what you see—the front-end look and feel. The UI implements the UX design. A UX can work effectively with a terrible UI. You can have an application with a stunning design that is painful to use (good UI, bad UX). You can also have an application that has a poor look and feel, but is highly intuitive to use (poor UI, good UX).

Moving past UI to UX

Manufacturing software evolved its approach to design as technology advanced. When displays were simply about graphics (tanks, valves motors), UI was the main design criteria and skillset. Today, as new capabilities around big data and advanced analytics evolve, software firms are hiring UX design and data scientists to create their applications.

Most major companies that use advanced analytics now have their own data scientist resources—a rare practice just five years ago. In the same way, as data sources and displays of new and legacy systems are connected into a common IIoT display framework, UX skills are needed to develop a common user experience, rather than replicate multiple disjointed screens in a single frame.

Benefits of UX

At our organization, we work with UX design companies to train our delivery teams in the methodical approach to UX design. The good news is that UX is a science, not an art. You can train people. It’s just a different approach to the engineering-focused classic UI approach. It considers more factors; it raises the bar.

When it comes to designing and blueprinting IIoT solutions, today’s manufacturers are looking for experienced consultants who can help them get it right the first time. The vast majority of them simply lack the resources for this critical aspect of the IIoT build-your-own world. In my experience, many have tried doing it on their own and have been unsuccessful. Just recently I encountered a company that had been trying to build their own IIoT displays for nine months—without a defined UX and standards approach! Not surprisingly, they were going in circles, building aggressively but not able to complete anything.

So where to go from here?

Whenever I meet someone who is interested in UI and UX, I refer them to these resources:

  • Video on The Norman Door
  • Article with an excellent, comprehensive list of what UI and UX are all about
  • Article from one of our UX partners, recommending you “Think beyond just creating another app for that; instead design something that is literally better integrated into your environment.”

You can have every bit of manufacturing information on a screen, but if the users can’t work out how to use the display it’s useless. Likewise, you can have the most intuitive display but unless it shows the manufacturing metrics that matter to that user, it’s useless.

It’s very much yin and yang, a harmony of UX and UI—a core capability for today’s leaders in manufacturing.

Barry Lynch is vice president of sales and marketing with Factora Solutions.

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