Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Embedded System User-Interface Tips

I have often written about the need for requirements definition at the beginning of any embedded system design. However, I believe user-interface (UI) requirements are in a class by themselves, and thus deserve special attention.

During the conceptualization of the user experience I recommend focusing more on identifying user roles, workflow and informational content than on detailed screen design. Far too often I see a lot of effort devoted to specific graphics, color, font and button alignment before basic questions are even asked. I suggest starting with a representative selection of the embedded system's user community and the development team to address the following types of questions:

-Who are the target user(s)?
-What are their roles?
-What specific information is critical and actionable to each role?
-What information is simply helpful?
-What data is nice to have but does not need to be normally displayed?

Once the above questions are answered then the development team should rapidly create multiple versions of simple user interface experiences for the user community to evaluate. (Sometimes it may take the physical form of a software simulation when it is impractical to develop on the target hardware.)

User feedback gained from interacting with examples of possible user interface screens can provide invaluable feedback that will focus the development team on a specific implementation path. Once the path is set, then it is time to choose the right icons, fonts and colors.

Please share your tips for really good UI design.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Questions That Provoke Innovation

One of my LinkedIn contacts posted an interesting article about innovation recently. It got me thinking about how this might be used in process improvement.

While there are well known practices to address many of the common issues with poor quality software development, sometimes there are challenges implementing them in specific environments. For example, while it is ideal to develop tests and test products as they’re being built, sometimes we find that doesn’t happen and testing needs to be done after the fact.

Sure, you could just start writing all the test cases from the requirements docs, but that’s a long road. And what if there are no requirement documents? The product still needs to be tested, and in a reasonable timeframe with a reasonable set of resources.

Asking “How might we…” can unlock all sorts of creative options.  One company I work with is using Google Voice accounts to fill in as “people” when testing their software. Sure they don’t all respond, but it’s a great start to put a little more load on the system.

How might you come up with a solution for some of your more intractable problems?


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Doodle -- A Cool Application

Every so often a web-based application really catches my attention. This time it is Doodle, a simple and innovative scheduling application. It is ideally suited for coordinating a meeting or event when more than just a couple of people are involved. No more back and forth emails due to Doodle's voting mechanism. Very cool.

I often wonder what makes a particular application so attractive while similar ones are not. Of course there is no easy answer and it is very subjective.

For me the application needs to:

-Do one thing and do it well
-Be easy to use
-Be accessible from anywhere at any time
-Be offered at a "reasonable price" (not necessarily free)
Companies often cast a wide net when designing new products. The thinking is to add as many features as possible to make the product desirable to a large audience. But I prefer to narrow the focus and go deep in implementing the core functionality. I believe if you focus on end user interaction and then make the product easy to use you will have a winner.

Please share your favorite application with me.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October Is Manufacturing Month

Here in Connecticut, October has been designated as Manufacturing Month. And since Advanced Decisions helps companies develop new products, many of our clients are manufacturers, giving me the opportunity to observe many of their operations firsthand.

And don't be fooled--manufacturing is not the dirty, dark and dangerous industry that it used to be. It's very high tech.

Manufacturing supports the economy in ways that other fields can't come near. Did you know that for every manufacturing job created, an average of 2.91 jobs in other sectors are created?

So during October, take a moment to learn more about 21st century manufacturing. It provides great jobs, with great pay, that require skilled workers. Groups like CONNSTEP, CBIA and NHMA are all sources of information that provide various programs to educate the general public about modern manufacturing.