Thursday, June 2, 2016

Benefits of a Holistic HMI design

Martin Riedl

In our last post, we talked about what constitutes holistic design. But, why bother to invest in holistic design? What are the benefits? Read on to find out.

Better user experience

The most obvious benefit is a better experience for your users. A holistic design approach to your human machine interfaces requires that you take a 360 degree view of the user experience. It means evaluating all of the key audiences and all the ways that they may make use of your product. The result is a rich set of use cases. Such a thorough analysis provides a solid foundation for a well-designed interface.

A holistic assessment also means comparing the experience of users across devices, if your HMI works on multiple devices. You want to provide a consistent and complimentary interface across them. Given that people today often use a mix of devices—an Android phone, and iOS tablet, a Windows laptop—and that many applications are accessible through the cloud, consistency is critical.

Lastly, a holistic design can take advantage of smart data to aid the user. By considering the entire set of interactions, devices, and users, designers working with developers can identify information that can be gathered from diverse devices or related sensors and applications, and then surface that information in new and useful ways to improve the user experience.

Leveraging data

As noted, a holistic design means evaluating all the data potentially available to your HMI so you can determine how you can use it to provide a better user experience. For example, the temperature sensor in your car can be combined with information from a cloud traffic app and a cloud weather app to improve the GPS routing program in your car. The program could offer alternative routes based on both current traffic and on predictions about icy roads or flooding.

But it goes beyond that. When you design holistically, you need to factor in another dimension: time. As you design, consider how you might gather information over the course of time to provide a better experience. For example, your vehicle might track the driver’s routes to and from familiar locations and track the time it takes to travel along those routes along with a date and time stamp. Then, it can use that information along with current traffic data to call out exceptions, such as when a regular route is particularly backed up so it’s going to take longer to get home than it does on average at this day of the week and time. It can then suggest an alternative to the user’s predicted destination:

“If you are trying to get home, your usual route down 108th Avenue is more backed up than usual. You might try taking Lake Washington Boulevard.”

Using data in this way makes your app truly valuable as it provides just-in-time and just-needed information. Your HMI becomes more than an on-demand tool. It’s a predictive one, able to make smart recommendations at appropriate times for the user.

Innovations like this require a holistic design approach. You need to be thinking deeply about your users’ goals and tasks as well as the devices, applications, and sensors available to you. And you have to think about the internet of things—what’s likely to become available in the near future and who you should be partnering with, in anticipation. Doing that allows you to lay the groundwork now for a better experience in the near future—putting you a solid leap ahead of the competition.

Crowd-sourcing data

We just talked about leveraging data from a given user to improve that user’s experience. But a holistic design also opens the door to crowd sourcing opportunities. Add the dimension of time to a volume of people using your application and you open a world of possibilities.

By thinking ahead and taking that holistic approach, you can build crowd-sourcing into your HMI. For instance, your GPS app could crowd-source data about traffic conditions, roadwork, etc. to let users enrich and expand the online maps.

With your own product roadmap in mind and a good grasp of user needs, you can identify opportunities where crowd-sourced data could add value. Crowd-sourcing through your own and partner applications, especially over time, enables you to provide valuable new features to your users or just gather information to improve your own application.

Take our cooking app from the first blog post in this series. What if your application included possible substitutions for ingredients in the recipes? And it enabled users to note substitutions they came up with or enhancements or even side dishes, drinks, and desserts they chose to accompany the meal? Over time, you’d have a larger set of information that you could use to offer new features in the application.

Recall that the cooking application integrated with smart refrigerators and smart cupboards to determine available ingredients. With substitution information provided by users, you can make better recommendations for cooks based on the ingredients they have at hand.

You can do more than that, though. You can add a feature that lets users get recommendations for side dishes and desserts based on the crowd-sourced data, and then let them rate those composed meals. That adds more crowd-sourced data letting you surface the best meal combinations over time.

That’s just one simple example of the power of crowd-sourcing—but it all starts with a holistic design approach so that you can build-in the features to allow data gathering in the first place.

Cheaper and faster development

There’s no doubt that holistic design takes more upfront time since it requires a more thorough pre-design analysis. But, if you invest in the right tools, holistic design can mean cheaper, faster development in the long run.

There are several reasons for this. First, a holistic analysis allows you to identify interface elements that can and should be consistent across devices, OS’s, etc. Tools such as EB GUIDE allow you to design and build the interface elements in a WYSIWYG editor, and rely on the design software to implement your interface on the specific device or OS. A good tool takes your design and optimizes it for the platform, taking advantage of platform-specific features. The more you can design reusable interface elements, the greater the savings.

Similarly, a holistically-designed HMI may incorporate multiple interaction modes. The user might interact by touch, voice, or through a tool like a mouse. Feedback can be provided via visuals, speech, or even haptics. The right design tool lets you design and develop for all those interaction modes at once, ensuring a more consistent design and ensuring you don’t need dedicated development teams for each interaction mode.

Lastly, if you’ve built a solid product, you’ll be putting out new versions for years to come. Depending on your industry, you may have variants of the product, such as navigation systems for different car models. You may make updates via the cloud to devices that are already deployed. A holistic design and a platform that supports holistic design can accommodate variants and give you a solid basis for developing new versions of the HMI, without starting from scratch or reworking huge portions of the code. Thinking about later versions and variants from the get-go lets you build a product that can accommodate improvements and an expanded market with a minimum of cost and time. And that means more profits for your business.

Holistic design in a new way of developing application in the IOT world. But investing in holistic design now will reap rewards far into the future.