Everyone loves a good fashion faux pas. It’s like a train wreck. You can’t look away. On the flip side, no one appreciates an interface design faux pas. A misjudgment in the design process can leave your customer frustrated, affect your reputation and even your bottom line.

Fashion magazines often feature articles on what to wear “Do’s & Don’ts”, or as I like to think of it:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

This sentiment is something engineers and project managers should keep in mind. Of course, there are Engineering 101 no-no’s when designing an HMI, like putting two dissimilar metals together on a connector, or placing LEDs & traces too close to the edge of a part. However, Engineering 101 no-no’s are in the details. What we’re talking about when we say “interface design faux pas” comes far before the nitty-gritty details of the switch design. It happens in the early discussions of the device when the very type of interface is determined; membrane switch, touch sensor, mechanical buttons, elastomer keypad, phone app with NFC, voice command, etc.

Consider these three factors for product design:

  1. Think about your end user – How do they want to interact with your machine?
  2. Practicality – Is it practical to design it a certain way considering the environment where it will be used?
  3. In what ways could this design go wrong? – If the HMI malfunctions, is there another way to operate the device? Could an issue or failure cause injury or damage?

Taking into account the questions above will also help guide the cost toward a reasonable and realistic price. Some devices require all of the bells and whistles, while others could benefit from the “KISS” (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle.

When a design faux pas goes wrong

Multiple issues in the field (especially if the issues can lead to injury) often result in a recall. Recalls can be detrimental to a company and their reputation leaving them in damage control mode.

Let’s quickly talk about touch screens: we will be the first to attest that touch screens have come a long way in the past couple years. Technology advancements have made touch sensors suitable for many applications, even those that involve the use of gloves, or water exposure. A touch HMI adds a modern look and feel to devices, making them a desirable feature for consumer items because they can make something feel “high-end”. However, even with the advancements in technology, the reality is that some applications are better suited for actual mechanical buttons.

Consider the oven/range glass cooktop surfaces that were recalled last year because the product’s touch controls could ignite on their own, which could burn an operator and create a potential fire hazard. This situation leads to several questions for consideration:

  • Are the bells & whistles of this touch feature necessary or is it simply a “cool” factor?
  • How does the touch control improve the functionality of the product, or does it get in the way?
  • Should this product require a dial instead of a touch screen? While there are fixes to prevent false touches on a surface, in certain applications, touch might not be ideal for operator efficiency and safety.

As we’ve said before you can have the best device in the world, but if the user cannot communicate with it properly, the equipment is disregarded as useless.

Here at Xymox Technologies, we like to partner with our customers early on so that we can share our expertise and help prevent any design faux pas from occurring. Contact us to find out more!