4 Keys to Designing Automation System UIs
Programmers and system designers would do well by remembering these four quotes while creating automation solutions.


December 11, 2012 By Mark Coxon

The definition of automation in commercial integration seems to vary. Discussions about automation have covered everything from smart buildings to sports bars. The functions of those systems will vary widely based on the needs of the facility and the amount of control and visibility will vary from each device to everything in the building.

The one thing that will remain constant across all verticals and systems, however, is the importance of the UX (user experience). Use the UX graphic below to guide you through four things to remember when designing the UX for your next automation system:

“The audience didn’t come to see you; they came to see what you can do for them.” - Nancy Duarte, Author of “Resonate”
It may sound cliché, but know your audience. Everything in the UX is supposed to be meaningful and pleasurable. The only way to assure that is to observe the client’s business, talk to the users of the system and take good notes. Ask questions about previous experiences with technology and find ways to ease those pain points.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park
Don’t think first and foremost about what you can do. Only build in features that you know the client will use. If you know the audience, you can decide what features are necessary and which ones can be eliminated. The UX is not a demonstration of your programming prowess, but on the other hand if done correctly it can be a great example of how well your company listens. Ignore this rule and you may just find yourself running through a jungle while holding a road flare with a T-rex behind you.

Four things to remember when designing UX for automation systems. Click image to enlarge.

“What’s with all these [flipping] pages?!?!” – Me (while reading Crime and Punishment)
Convenience is a value at the core of the UX Pyramid. Talk to any web designer and they’ll tell you that a customer needs to get to anything relevant within three clicks of the mouse or you lose them. You should be able to get to any feature in the UX within three button presses with only very rare exceptions. In other words, eliminate excessive page flipping.

“We often get in quicker by the back door than by the front.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Don’t confuse the UX with your service portal needs. As a programmer, you may need access to the color space settings on the eight-channel, SMPTE-clocked, solid-state video server you installed, but I can guarantee you the client never will. Create a separate set of features that allow you access from the back door, while creating a nice Disney Main Street-esque façade for the user facing portion.

At the end of the day, many of our businesses rely on customers that come back time and time again, as well as their ability to refer us to others. Creating a user experience that goes beyond functionality, reliability and usability will go a long way toward creating that faithful and evangelical customer that will ultimately grow your business.

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About the author

Mark Coxon - Sales, Mark
Mark started his technology career at IBM in 2000 before migrating into AV integration in early 2002. He currently works at Horizon Display, an interactive multitouch hardware and software provider. Mark lives in Orange County with Lesley, his wife of 11 years and his 3 children.
View all posts by Mark Coxon
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