UX in industrial settings: Intuitive design for enhanced efficiency

The city of Würzburg, situated charmingly on the River Main, is renowned not only for its historic old town and first-class wines but also for hosting the “Future of Industrial Usability“. The event gathered experts from all over Germany from October 23 to 24 to discuss the latest developments in user experience (UX) within the industrial environment. My colleague Vivien and I were also present and want to share some insights.

User-friendliness as a success factor

A central topic of the conference was the user experience of products in industrial applications. And for good reason: in an era in which technology and digital solutions are shaping everyday working life, designing products and applications that focus on the needs and expectations of users becomes increasingly crucial. Outstanding UX can not only enhance customer satisfaction but also boost employee productivity and efficiency.

The presentations and discussions emphasized the importance of a user-centric approach to product development. From the simplicity of user interfaces to the seamless integration of functions, companies must comprehend their users’ needs to create products and applications that can perform effectively in today’s complex working environment.

Focus on user needs: personas in the enterprise software context

Developing enterprise software is particularly challenging due to its complexity and diverse user groups. As described in our article “Personas for business software – a gimmick or sustainable added value?“, utilizing personas offers an effective approach to tackle this challenge. Personas are fictional characters representing typical users of a product or service. Working with them is an integral part of CONTACT’s software development process and plays a key role in getting a better understanding of users’ tasks and needs in their professional lives. With this understanding, companies can develop more user-centered products and software solutions. In Würzburg, we presented how to create personas, market them within the company, and utilize them across departments.

Card set as a playful tool to visualize personas within the company (©Vogel Communications Group)

Integrating AI into interaction concepts: The path to the future

Another intensely debated topic was the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into interaction concepts. AI is increasingly being used in industry as a means of improving processes and supporting decision-making. It holds the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with machines and technology. Attendees were presented with impressive examples and best practices illustrating how AI can increase efficiency and performance in the industry. For instance, a concept showed how AI integration into a Human Machine Interface (HMI) assists machine users in adjusting facilities to be more energy efficient.

Future of Industrial Usability: a resounding success

Overall, the “Future of Industrial Usability” was an inspiring event. Alongside current trends, it showed that user-centered product development in the industry is not merely a passing trend but has taken a pivotal role in the future of product development and corporate success. Companies investing in usability enhancements will distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive market and better meet their customers’ needs.

We look forward to further exciting developments and innovations in this field and thank the organizers of the conference in Würzburg for this excellent event. See you next time.

Personas for business software – a gimmick or sustainable added value?

“Personas are just start-up knick-knacks, and for business software just a gimmick!” I’m sure many product developers have heard this before. I certainly have. But what is the truth behind the criticism that personas offer relevant added value for consumer products and are just creative add-ons for business software?

What are personas anyway?

Personas are fictitious people who represent typical representatives of a specific target group. They give product developers, customers and stakeholders an idea of who uses the product. In addition to a photo and name, personas typically include information on age, profession, free-time activities, family status and curriculum vitae, as well as typical needs and fears.

Personas in the context of business software

However, how do I deal with this as a product developer when my target group is primarily not people with individual needs and ideas, but with concrete professional challenges? For example, whether digital asset manager Diana Asmussen likes to play computers in her free time or go on vacation with her dogs is of no interest to product development. Diana steps into the spotlight with her professional needs as a digital asset manager and her requirements for an IoT system. When designing business software, employees should be addressed who want to complete their tasks efficiently and act in their roles and company processes.

CONTACT’s Personas

We at CONTACT therefore decided to create personas based on their roles and associated tasks within a fictitious company. We obtained input from our internal subject matter experts and customer interviews. Each persona has a task description and information on how to use CONTACT Elements.

Exemplary representation of the personas and team memberships of a fictitious customer

To be more specific, this means…

The holistic view of user needs provides valuable added value for product development – from knowledge building to quality assurance.

Personas make users more tangible and help new and long-standing product developers to get to know our target groups better.

By answering questions like: Who works with the 3D Cockpit? What does a user do in variant management? Or with whom does a CAE engineer interact? they know exactly for whom they are developing and can serve requirements in a more targeted manner. As sample users in concepts, demos and review systems, including all the rights they would have in a real environment, personas also ensure that work during development and quality assurance is user-centric.

But personas also have a high added value outside of product development. In presentations and in consulting, we use them to vividly depict scenarios, to build up understanding, and for identification.

So my answer to the initial question of whether personas are a gimmick or offer sustainable added value is clear: Personas are a central element in developing the best possible software for the user. They clarify needs, help to prioritize requirements, and promote a sustainable build-up of knowledge about the target groups company-wide.

Digital accessibility for everyone

Modern software should be without barriers. But what kind of barriers can software have and for whom? And how can software companies eliminate them? The general understanding of accessible software mostly refers to the fact that people with disabilities or other physical limitations can use it well. For example, software designed in this way reduces the risk of confusion between color representations on the monitor in the case of red-green vision impairment, or makes it easier for people with Parkinson’s disease to use the mouse. This is an important requirement that modern software should fulfill.

Thinking the approach that all users should not have any barriers in the way of operation consistently further, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone experiences limitations to a greater or lesser extent when using a computer. For example, even for users with normal vision, elements of the program interface can be difficult to recognize on a bad screen, the environment can be too noisy to concentrate, or the mouse cannot be operated due to a current hand injury. Accessibility therefore addresses everyone!

Accessibility as a standard

For consumer software, reducing or eliminating operating barriers has long been standard practice. For example, I can increase the font size on my iPhone or have texts read aloud to me. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were established early on for the World Wide Web. As an international standard, they provide developers with guidelines for making websites accessible to as many people as possible. They have become the de facto standard for accessible user experiences and are even referenced in legislation on equality for people with disabilities.

Remove barriers – release forces

For me, following these standards does not only mean fulfilling my responsibility as a product designer. It also simply means a guaranteed improvement in product quality – for all users. After all, it’s not just users with special visual impairments who benefit from high-contrast displays or keyboard controls, to name just two examples. Entrepreneur and accessibility advocate Debrah Ruh put it succinctly: “Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” I think that fits perfectly with our claim at CONTACT: Energizing great minds.