[Point of VIEW] Where’s the GUI Going?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.

 

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Whether we love them or hate them, UIs–the veneer on our code, configuration, hardware, and data analytics–define our experience and influence our productivity. GUI history is remarkable. From the unsuccessful yet influential Xerox Star in 1981, to the 1984 Macintosh and Windows 3.0, we saw multipanel windows; desktop metaphors with paper, folders, clocks, and trashcans; browser wars brought dashboards; and Windows 8 introduced live tiles. This history provides a map for what GUIs may look like in the future.


Engineering and scientific UIs were historically distinct from consumer or architectural design. For NI, GUIs are rooted in the success of virtual instrumentation, which mimicked legacy box instruments. The virtual instrumentation approach trumped traditional test and measurement software teams who lost sight of basic UI design in a frenzy to build more features.

 

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LabWindows/CVI is an example of an engineering-specific GUI, an interface to mimic traditional box equipment.

 

Today, we are in a transition where UI design is more than a competitive advantage, it’s a requirement. Heavily influenced by consumer experiences, today’s users seek solutions which offer as much intuitiveness as function.


We should all demand GUIs which are:

  1. (actually) Graphical – End unintuitive TUIs (I thought I made that up but didn’t).
  2. Skinnable – Different than customizable, your UI should come with themes, skins, and documented extensibility points.
  3. Modern - This means a clean, minimalist design (more is NOT better in the UI world) to let you focus on the data and information rather than the control.
  4. Designed – Layout, color, font, and hue saturation all matter. Don’t assume these elements aren’t necessary.
     

To meet these demands, vendors are investing in interaction, user experience, and user interface designers (including NI). I predict we will see more UI trends such as:

 

  • Flat – 2013 was the year most design experts began teaching and preaching the minimalistic design approach featuring clean, open space, crisp edges, and bright colors to emphasize usability
  • Mobile design – with consideration for high-end graphics power and heat leads to simpler interfaces and two dimensionality (Metro and 2012 Gmail redesign)
  • 3D – led by gaming and content industries, direct 3D and OpenGL technologies give us a beautiful experience on powerful platforms with 3D rendering, shading, and transparency effects (AIGLX for Red Hat Fedora, Quartz Extreme for Mac OS X, and Vista's Aero)
  • Virtual Reality – growing in feasibility, heads up displays are no longer reserved for pilots, VR is showing up everywhere from the 2013 PriusAirbus Smart Factory

 

Regardless of future designs, the most important element to plan for: design trends will and must evolve.   Profit margins and adoption of your products will be defined by the user experience – which is first experienced through your user interface. 

 

Need more convincing? Forrester Research finds that “a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4 percent, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8 percent, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6 percent.”

 

Do you agree? Tell us what you think by commenting below or connecting with the UI Interest Group to learn tips and tricks from top LabVIEW developers.

 

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Today’s Featured Author

Shelley Gretlein is a self-proclaimed software geek and robot aficionado. As NI’s director of software marketing, you can find Shelley championing LabVIEW from keynote stages to user forums to elevator conversations. You can follow her on Twitter at @LadyLabVIEW.