When you look at traditional programming languages, you see all the same things: text characters and punctuation symbols. To understand the meaning of this code, you read and interpret a form of text that was designed from the perspective of a machine’s sequential operation. Various development environments apply transforms to this text to help you – color-coding keywords, automatically indenting sections of code to show scope, collapsing sections of a large file for easier navigation – but in the end, you are still left facing a wall of text that you must interpret.
The graphical programming language in LabVIEW describes functionality the way that users think: visually. Data flows along patterned, color-coded wires, parallel processes are shown side by side, and code sections are abstracted into nodes with visual depictions of their functionality. Over 30 years, engineers and scientists have used graphical programming as their tool of choice for automation and system design, because it visually reflects their way of thinking, rather than the computer’s.
It follows that visual design in a graphical programming language affects not only aesthetics, but also utility. As we developed the LabVIEW platform over these last 30 years, we have added thousands more functions across a variety of areas, from data acquisition, to embedded control and monitoring, to 5G research. With such a diverse application space, it is important that the platform stay visually consistent and disciplined. With that in mind, we have embarked on a significant visual design initiative intended to keep all developers productive.
The first major result that you will see from this initiative is more consistent and meaningful iconography for VIs. In the past, you may have found different glyphs that meant “search” – binoculars or different styles of magnifying glass – in the future we will have a single glyph used throughout the platform. The same applies for “write,” “configure,” “reset,” and so on.
Figure 1: Consistent iconography across the software platform makes visual metaphors more effective.
We've also turned our attention to VI icon design. We took inspiration from everyday traffic signs that are simple to understand at a glance, and applied this to color scheme and glyph use. The results are icons that have only one bold color, one accent color, and a few key glyphs per icon. This reduces visual complexity, while still elevating important functionality.
Figure 2: The NI-DAQmx palette uses a bold dark color and secondary accent color.
Graphical programming has always derived its value from effective visual design. With continued investment, we will further differentiate this benefit compared to traditional programming languages.
Let us know what you think.