Simplifying the Complex: The Role of UI/UX in Industrial Automation

Integrating complex technologies with robots, autonomous machines, Artificial Intelligence, and other technologies to perform various procedures in industrial automation processes yields efficiencies and cost savings. Nonetheless, oversight by human operators is required. These are usually not programmers or computer scientists but personnel familiar with the equipment and intended outcomes. These individuals who may have once performed these duties or trained others to do so now find themselves in environments inhabited by machine laborers that do not require breaks. With the march towards appification in industrial automation, the need for user-friendly, intuitive tools facilitating the efficient and safe completion of tasks grows in importance. UI/UX plays a pivotal role in reaching these goals.

What is UI/UX?

"User Interface" (UI) encompasses the visual hierarchy of software and hardware components, buttons, menus, and icons. An effective UI includes user-friendly controls and visuals that boost productivity and minimize errors. In contrast, "User Experience" (UX) encompasses the entire interaction with a product, encompassing its accessibility, friendliness to use, and general satisfaction. Automated systems and humans interact better with efficient UX, improving user satisfaction, informed decision-making, and reduced training. UI and UX are critical in simplifying intricate processes, enabling seamless navigation.

UI/UX in Industrial Automation

In any application, a well-developed UI/UX is essential for ensuring that users can effortlessly interact with it. This is particularly important in industrial automation, where efficiency and safety are paramount. Errors can have severe consequences. An inadequately designed user interface can result in confusion, frustration and be dangerous. With the rapid development of new technologies and devices, a flexible UI/UX ensures compatibility and relevance in a constantly changing landscape. Applications with intuitive, accessible, and adaptable interfaces allow businesses to maximize the benefits of automation while promoting a more productive and safe work environment.

Considerations in UI/UX Development

Regardless of the use case, prerequisites of a successful UI/UX implementation are universal.  Whether an individual is managing a team of robots in a factory, browsing a website researching a product, or using their favorite app, a well-developed UI/UX delivers an intuitive, easy-to-use experience, permitting the user to complete the assignment, as opposed to figuring out how to complete it.

Irrespective of the application, a variety of factors require consideration to produce a successful UI/UX that enables the user to focus on the task at hand - whether it be ensuring the quality of a product, finding the right pair of shoes, or completing targets to ‘level up’ - not spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to do them.

User Needs
Understanding and prioritizing end users' requirements, preferences, and expectations is paramount in developing any user interface. Conducting comprehensive user research and developing personas helps UI/UX designers understand user requirements and expectations, allowing them to design systems that cater to these requirements.

In the realm of industrial automation, an interface that meets the needs of the end user results in:

  • Improved usability: By understanding user needs, designers can create interfaces that are intuitive, easy to navigate, and tailored to the specific tasks users need to accomplish. This enhances usability and ensures a more satisfying experience.
  • Enhanced user satisfaction: When a product or service meets user needs effectively, it results in higher user satisfaction, leading to increased adoption.
  • Reduced user frustration: By eliminating pain points, designers can minimize negative user experiences. This can aid in the wider adoption of an application or platform.
  • Accessibility and inclusivity: Considering user needs involves accommodating users with different abilities and backgrounds, ensuring the design is accessible and inclusive for a broader audience.
  • Higher return on investment: Catering to and meeting user needs increases satisfaction. ultimately leading to acceptance.

A consistent UI design throughout the system ensures that users can easily navigate the system. This includes elements such as color schemes, typography, button styles, navigation structures, and overall layout. Think about an ‘add to cart’ button on an e-commerce website. If its size, shape, color, or location changed from one page or item to the next, that e-tailer would likely not make many sales. Then consider an environment where the stakes are higher. 

  • Familiarity and learnability: A consistent design helps users quickly become familiar with the interface and easily learn how to use it. When similar elements behave predictably, users can transfer their knowledge from one part of the application to another, reducing the learning curve.
  • Usability: Consistency improves usability by providing a clear and coherent structure. Users can more easily navigate and interact with the application when they know what to expect and understand how elements function.
  • Trust and credibility: A consistent design conveys a sense of professionalism and reliability, helping to build trust with users. Inconsistent designs may appear disorganized or poorly executed, undermining user confidence in the product or service.
  • Efficient development: Consistent design patterns and components can be reused across different application areas, streamlining the development process and reducing potential errors. This can lead to faster development times and more maintainable code.

Concise Content:
Providing brief, clear, and informative content lets users understand and utilize an application quickly, letting them get on with their assignments.

  • Improved readability: Short, clear, easy-to-understand content lets users grasp essential information quickly. Concise content eliminates unnecessary jargon or fluff, making it easier for users to comprehend and retain the information presented.
  • Enhanced user experience: Users typically have limited time and attention spans. Brief content allows them to find and consume relevant information quickly. This leads to a more efficient and satisfying user experience, reducing frustration and cognitive overload.
  • Better decision-making: Users are enabled to make informed decisions more quickly, as they can easily understand and evaluate the available options. This is particularly crucial when a user needs to take immediate action or make critical choices.
  • Clarity and focus: Information specific to the user’s needs can be presented in reference to where they are in an application. This clarity helps a user to understand and complete a task quickly.
  • Accessibility: For users with cognitive impairments or reading difficulties, shorter content is more accessible. Providing succinct information ensures inclusivity by a broader audience.

Feedback and Responsiveness:
Feedback is visual, auditory, or haptic cues to user interactions. Responsiveness refers to the speed and efficiency with which a system responds to user input. With accurate, helpful feedback quickly provided, a user learns to trust the system/application will. This goes a long way in the gaming universe to ensure users will return. In a factory environment, this comfort level is of even greater importance.

Well-implemented feedback and responsiveness serve to:

  • Confirm user actions: Providing feedback helps users understand whether their actions have been successful or if an error has occurred. Preventing misunderstandings or repeated attempts increases user confidence.
  • Increase or improve engagement: Responsive interfaces that react quickly to user input create a more engaging and satisfying experience. Users feel comfortable and confident  using an application responsive to their needs.
  • Error prevention and recovery: Clear feedback helps users easily identify and correct errors. Providing specific information about what occurred and how to resolve it minimizes frustration and facilitates a smoother user experience.
  • Intuitive interactions: When a UI/UX design provides feedback and responds promptly to user input, it supports more natural and intuitive interactions. Users can navigate and operate the system more efficiently, improving the overall user experience.
  • Trust and credibility: A responsive and informative interface instills trust in the system. A slow or unresponsive interface, on the other hand, can undermine user confidence.

Designing a flexible UI and UX that accommodates a wide range of users with varying preferences and capabilities enables a more inclusive and accessible system. This includes accommodating different devices, screen sizes, input methods, accessibility requirements, and user skill levels.

In industrial automation, the benefits of flexibility in UI/UX include:

  • Adaptability: A flexible UI/UX adapts to different situations, environments, and technological advancements. This ensures the interface remains relevant and effective  as technology evolves or user expectations change.
  • Accessibility: Flexibility in design helps address the needs of users with varying abilities and disabilities. This includes accommodating different input methods, providing alternative ways to access information, and offering customizable settings to suit individual needs.
  • Device compatibility: With the proliferation of different devices, screen sizes, and platforms, a flexible UI/UX design ensures the product functions well across multiple environments, enhancing user experience and increasing comfort and trust.
  • Reduced development and maintenance costs: Flexible UI/UX facilitates updates and adjustments as user needs or technology changes. Instead of overhauling an entire system, incremental changes can reduce costs and minimize disruption.

READY Robotics ForgeOS

A3 member READY Robotics, and participant in our webinar, The UI and UX of Automation, developed ForgeOS. This award-winning user interface reduces the challenges of automation integration. Alicat Scientific, a leading manufacturer of flow control devices, was seeking a robotic solution to optimize its production process. They chose ForgeOS due to its exceptional UI/UX. The intuitive UI enabled Alicat's engineers to quickly learn and operate the system, while the adaptable UX facilitated easy customization of the robotic workstations. As a result, the company experienced a substantial reduction in labor costs and an impressive improvement in product quality. The platform's ability to cater to non-expert users allowed Alicat to achieve a rapid return on investment, demonstrating the pivotal role that UI/UX played in their decision.

inVia Robotics Logic and Picker

Scaling automation to multiple facilities while ensuring software, robots, and people work together smoothly is a challenge to fulfillment services such as ShipHero, a leading provider of e-commerce fulfillment services. To meet these challenges ShipHero reached out to inVia Robotics, a developer of robotics warehouse automation systems designed to control the order fulfillment process. To improve the productivity of its warehouse workers, ShipHero implemented inVia's Logic warehouse execution system (WES) and Picker autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

With fulfillment centers such as ShipHero seeing influxes of temporary workers in peak seasons, providing them with systems that are easy to learn is of utmost importance. Displaying orders on an easy-to-use UI using visual cues and logical layouts, the inVia system has reduced the cognitive load on users, enabling them to focus on essential tasks and make quick decisions.
Meanwhile, AI measures performance, diagnoses training needs, and identifies problems. Inventory mismatches are identified and addressed automatically.

By prioritizing user-friendly interactions, ShipHero and inVia have successfully minimized the learning curve for employees while maximizing their efficiency.

In Conclusion

As automation systems become more intricate, prioritizing usability and accessibility in UI and UX design is essential. By focusing on understanding user needs, maintaining consistency, providing clear and concise content, ensuring feedback and responsiveness, and designing flexible interfaces, designers are equipped to develop exceptional UI/UX for automation applications and platforms to accommodate the industry’s rapidly evolving needs.

Take a deeper dive into UI/UX strategies and implementation. Watch our webinar, The UI and UX of Automation, featuring experts from inVia Robotics Inc. and READY Robotics Corporation.