What Makes a Great User Interface?

We all experience user interfaces on a daily basis whether in our cars, on our mobile phones or on our personal or work computers. A user interface is a gateway; it is a visual path to an experience as well as information or functionality. A user interface is also a language of its own that allows one to navigate a program or application.

When a user-friendly, well-designed user interface is effective, it makes tasks so much easier and makes better use of limited time. With effective design, a person does not have to spin their wheels trying to get a task done or access necessary information.

Remember the last time you tried to complete a task on your phone, computer or other digital interface to find it did not work, or you could not get the information that you wanted?  We all know that feeling of complete frustration when what we tried to do did not work!

This brings us to the million-dollar question – what does make a great user interface? What specific features make using a program or application a breeze to use?

After doing research, the following is what we found tended to be the predominant features in a great user interface:

Simple Navigation

Getting around in a program is very important.  Programs and applications with a simple, user-friendly navigation scored high. Words like concise and succinct came up frequently.  Concise navigation enables the user to interact with the user interface by featuring less extraneous imagery or information that could potentially make an action confusing.

Intuitive Features

Designing interfaces with next steps that are intuitive are very important in this busy day and age when time is limited. Nothing is better than trying to do something in a program and having it seamlessly cooperate the way that would most make sense.  An effective user interface is designed in a way that is intuitive, feels familiar, and is natural and instinctively understood.

Effective Graphics

Effective, relevant graphics represent functionality that is easily accessed by visual representation and recognition. In a matter of seconds, a user knows what the graphic represents and how it can help them accomplish a task, or locate information.

At Capstone, we are happy to report that our dataPARC user interface scored high in all three categories and here are some of the reasons why:

  • dataPARC offers drag and drop features: Users can add tags to almost any display and immediately get live feedback. Using the drag and drop feature is very intuitive.
  • dataPARC offers a multitude of visual ways to access the same information. Whether it is a visual display, a number display, charts, bar graphs or customizable reports, we have the information for you in the way you want it.
  • dataPARC’s customization possibilities are endless. The data format may be different for specific roles in the process industry. While a plant manager may need specific overview information, an operator may need very detailed data.  dataPARC has you covered with customizable reports in the way that you want them.
  • dataPARC is YOUR tool. Unlike the competition, you can change and customize what you see without the use of a third party application.

Want to know more about the dataPARC software suite and how its intuitive interface can benefit your business? Contact us and someone will be in touch with you shortly.

Using Process Displays for Troubleshooting

using-process-displays-for-troubleshootingA lot of time and effort goes into the construction of the HMI screens and other display screens that are used to monitor and control production processes, so it is worth giving some time and thought to their layout and design. The most important consideration is how they can convey the most useful information in a timely manner to their intended audience.

This blog post deals designing process monitoring screens to better assist with troubleshooting efforts. It contains tips and guidelines on how to use PARCview’s graphics design tool, PARCgraphics, to address this goal.

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Process Data Compression: Why it’s a BAD Idea

data-compressionMost people are familiar with compressing data files so that they require less memory and they are easier to send electronically. Similar concepts are popular with process data historians. With process data, compression means reducing the number of data points that are stored, while trying to not affect the quality of the data. Compression can be accomplished using one of several algorithms (swinging door, Box Car Back Slope). Each algorithm uses some criteria to eliminate data between points where there is constant change (slope), within some tolerance.

The main drivers for compression are disk space, and network traffic or data retrieval speed. The goal of compression is to remove data that is “unimportant”. The proponents of compression make convincing arguments, like the shape of the graph is still the same. However, there are several drawbacks to compression.
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Adding Visualization Tools to Your Data Historian

adding-visualization-tools-to-your-data-historianThere are many different systems available for storing and analyzing manufacturing process data. A historian is a database application that provides a means of storing the data. Nowadays, historians are a commodity and sites routinely have multiple sources of data – everything from embedded historians in control systems to custom databases for specific purposes. The true value is in how the data is used, not where it is stored.

We have all heard the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so it should be obvious that visual representations of data make analysis easier and faster. The simple example below illustrates the advantage of visual data over numerical data.
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Guidelines for Effective Schematic HMI Design

Guidelines for Effective HMI DesignMost modern manufacturing processes are controlled and monitored by computer based control and data acquisition systems. This means that one of the primary ways that an operator interacts with a process is through computer display screens. These screens may simply passively display information, or they may be interactive, allowing an operator to select an object and make a change which will be then be relayed to the actual process. This interface where a person interacts with a display, and consequently the process, is called a Human-Machine Interface, or HMI.
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Human-Machine Interfaces for Process Industries

hmiOperating and troubleshooting a modern automated manufacturing process requires seeing and acting on hundreds or thousands of individual pieces of data. Digital control systems and plant-wide information systems have given us the ability to bring all of the data regarding plant status and performance to a single location. The challenge then is to create effective visual displays that allow the consumers of this information to easily understand and interact with the data.

In the world of digital controls, the visual portion of the human-machine interface, or HMI, is typically a configurable, electronic flat panel display. The challenge is to design graphics for these screens which “best” convey the status of the process to the operators.
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3 Key Benefits of Plant Information Management Systems (PIMS)

benefits of a plant information management systemWhen it comes to operating a manufacturing process of any kind, everyone will agree that it is beneficial to have a lot of data. However, simply collecting and storing data does not, by itself, yield measurable benefits. In order to take full advantage of the data, it needs to be organized, archived and then made available in a variety of formats throughout a facility.

This is the function of a versatile and robust plant-wide information system , also referred to as a Plant Information Management System (PIMS), or, alternatively, a Process Information Management System. No matter what you call it, the purpose of a PIMS is the presentation of well-organized data which should lead to informed and cost-effective decisions. Read More

Using Pareto Charts for Quality Control

Using Pareto Charts for Quality ControlThe Pareto chart is a quality improvement tool that is based upon the Pareto principle, the principle that 80% of an outcome comes from 20% of its inputs. Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer and economist, first observed the 80/20 rule in relation to population and wealth. At the beginning of the 20th century, Pareto noted that in Italy and several other European countries, 80% of the wealth was controlled by just 20% of the population.

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How to Use Control Charts to Improve Manufacturing Quality

how-to-use-control-charts-to-improve-manufacturing-overlay2Note: a previous post on Centerlining is referenced in this article. It may be helpful for you to read that first, if you haven’t already done so.

Once a manufacturing process has been centerlined and is running relatively well, it is time to take the next step – measuring and tracking important product characteristics. One method of tracking involves the use of process control charts.

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