User Interface Design

DLS Solutions, User Interface Design
The field of user interface design for laboratory instrumentation has converged to a need to combine both stream-lined workflow and expert modes within one package. The design for function and usability is different than web-based applications because the users are often better trained to use the software, and the visitation model is based on workflow or experiments. We have a significant number of projects where we worked side-by-side with User Interface teams and/or created and implemented new interaction models for the client. Our use of rapid prototyping and close interaction with the client has proven successful.

The User Interface is often the central focus, at least early on in the project, is a tangible reflection the contributions of everyone on the team, and is ultimately what the user experiences. DLS has decades of experience working with teams where we acted as the lone source of direction for UI design. We also have experience where we were fully integrated with teams that included dedicated User Interface designers, full design cycles and Usability Studies. The emotional nature of developing the User Interface is of interest to DLS. Since we build complete solutions, which, in fact, may involve systems designed to limit the UI, we are not limited nor defined by the field of User Experience specialists. Yet, we are heavily involved and overlap heavily with the art and science of both the User and the Interface. Some of the specific aspects of this area we believe are important:

  • Prototype with the team for new designsPrototype with the team for new designs
  • Iterate developing the UI and stay ahead of the internalsIterate developing the UI and stay ahead of the internals
  • Allow more time to digest the experience and always consider user simplicityAllow more time to digest the experience and always consider user simplicity
  • Balance expert mode and wizardsBalance expert mode with wizards

A pattern that we have observed for many years is the need to make the User Interface look, feel, and act like other company products, and hence have a common "platform" or "suite" for the user base. Another pattern is a design need based on the type of projects we engage in. This is a forms-based design that uses the core building blocks of grids (tables) and plots (graphs or image viewers). The remaining design elements fill out the balance of a given form or page. These are typically toolkit-based widgets used to perform atomic actions, collectively making up some major activity, such as navigating and selecting a file to review. Regardless of the number of layers the architecture actually becomes, we strive to allow the UI to be changed often, as this is usually the case. Whether the application needs a new plug-in for some added analysis, a wizard wrapper put on a complicated front-end or a completely new model to replace the legacy system, the User Interface drives the software team and deserves both priority and attention. A key for DLS is to quickly help the client discover the "best" move given the system at hand and progress through trade-offs by transparent and methodical exploration.