Understanding User Interface Design for Industrial Applications

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Design Mark Blog Industrial User Interface DesignBasic industrial user interface designs rely on observing the natural interaction patterns between humans and machines

Industrial User Interface Design & Engineering by Design Mark


User Interface design or “UI” design, is one of several disciplines which fall under the greater industrial design umbrella practiced by virtually every manufacturing and technology company today. UI design focuses on the actual sensory communication and behavior between human and machine, from visual graphic displays on panels to various auditory and tactile system responses. UI blends graphic design, human psychology, and machine technology together in order to execute a specific process as efficiently as possible for operators.

In automation and manufacturing, the human-machine interface (HMI) relies on good UI design in order to provide a complete depiction of an industrial process, machine response, or environment status. Whether physical panel or digital touch screen, every aspect of the UI is strategically planned in order to provide the user with just enough visual and contextual information without overwhelming focus or abilities. Complex visuals, overbearing audible signals, and disorganized input options can add to operator stress and ultimately hamper operational efficiency. This is why UI design is so important, as it leverages operator behavior and machine communication together in order to find the most fluid, “human-centric” control possible. By analyzing operator tasks and applying predictive models such as Fitt’s Law, Design Mark can develop UI experiences that feature the most ideal human movement patterns possible.

Prototyping an Ideal UI Design with Design Mark

At Design Mark, we work with manufacturers and other industrial partners to extensively study, prototype, and engineer intuitive UI designs for an array of control panels, equipment, and devices. The importance of good UI design in any HMI system is vital, as it is the foundation to building user involvement, streamlining system functionality, and ensuring customer loyalty for manufacturers. Our prototyping phase is especially important for mapping out physical experiences during the human-machine interaction. Design Mark utilizes a series of development stages that includes the creation of wireframe drawings, physical mockups, and operational prototypes.

In the first key stages, our wireframe concepts not only map out the core flow of all included UI functionality, but are also able to predict, note, and anticipate HMI interaction.  Through the use of activity diagrams, we develop a “control flow” for each process need. This consists of an entire illustration of basic components that represent UI interactions such as activities, actions, events, signals, decisions, and many more. All of this is achieved through exhaustive research on the actual industrial process involved, machine technology, and operator’s skill level.

Once the activity diagram or “neural network” of human and machine process decisions are mapped out in the form of a flow chart, mockups are created using visual elements for the design of the panel. This includes placement of buttons, keypads, switches, membranes, overlays and more as well as color schemes, graphics, and other items for complete UI design.  With a mockup developed, prototyping can begin for fully functional control panels that incorporate the most refined HMI process possible and consist of hundreds or even thousands of UI design elements. Design Mark works directly with customers across all phases in order to understand their needs, analyze plant processes and environments, and help to bolster operator efficiency. 

What Makes a Good Industrial UI?

Good UI design requires a number of factors that help come together seamlessly in order to facilitate the most efficient HMI process possible. In the world of website development, UI is critical, as it is one of the most effective avenues for ensuring customer usability and process efficiency. The layout and visual design of a webpage, especially one with the ability to control or monitor some form of machinery or medical device, requires extensive UI development for presenting process information in an efficient, organized manner to users. Whether it’s a banking website or a nuclear plant control panel, the same elements apply in terms of layout, system summary, and environment status. Color coordination and sequencing, control location, context of information, and presentation of operating status are all website UI elements that should be considered.

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Requirements for Successful Industrial UI Design

There are a wide range of requirements that make up a good UI design, narrowed down according to process and application needs. In general, a number of principles can be followed:

  • Visualization matters - Where necessary, choose visualization over confusing or tedious alphanumeric information in order to fluidly communicate a process or status. Focus all visualizations into a refined, clear cut package that allows operators to cognitively process something without hesitation.


  • Create design elements that soothe, not confuse the mind - Too many design elements, improper color usage, and too many functions can have an effect on an operator’s mental endurance. From contrast to background features, keep it simple and streamlined so as not to burden. More is always less!


  • Ensure spatial integrity - Also known as Gestalt laws of grouping, all objects and elements need to be grouped in an organized, logically presented fashion. For example, it does not make common or organized sense to have the temperature display of a system next to the volume button on a control panel. Group relevant, relational data or process functions together so users can assimilate the information properly.


  • Always consider UI as it relates to the work environmentA good UI design considers all possible circumstances, including the work environment of the operator. Plant floors with poor visibility, distractions and other influences can impact UI design and impede operator focus.


  • If it’s not needed, it’s not includedAny aspect of the UI that is irrelevant to the event or task at hand should not be in the operator’s view. All attention should be focused on the task and the UI should only show what is necessary in a logical, sequential fashion. Going from task A to task B, in order to get to task C, needs to be synchronous in cognitive and physical flow.


Examples of Industrial User Interface Designs for Manufacturing


Industrial, engineering, and manufacturing companies worldwide rely on good UI development services in order to achieve process efficiency for their machines, workstations, measurement systems, automation platforms, and production monitors. The convergence of digital presentation with physical controls are prominent in these industries and sometimes require a blend of the two to come together for good UI performance.

Design Mark_blog_CNC Controllers


CNC Controllers

CNC control panels for machining feature both digital presentation and physical buttons, combining screens with graphic overlays, membranes and switches designed according to HMI task needs.







Design Mark_Blog_Industrial Automation Control PanelsIndustrial Automation Control Panels

Today, many digital UI panels for manufacturing and automation are designed based on previous, older generation physical panel layouts that were manufactured in the past. UI engineers can look at past control panel designs in order to mimic the same features on screen.   




Design Mark_blog_Industrial Plants

Industrial Plants (Nuclear, Electric, Hydro, etc.)

Industrial plants require a broad layout of panels in both physical and digital form, providing a complete snapshot of all systems in one setting. Each element shown above has been placed specifically to provide the maximum amount of operational efficiency between human and machine.

Innovative Design & Engineering Services for Industrial UI Solutions

Design Mark is a global leader in engineering-based, user-interface solutions for manufacturing, medical, engineering, military, and communications. We integrate the very best practices possible in UI design and development, taking a scientific approach to HMI processes, from simple medical devices to highly complex system control centers. Our graphic overlays, membrane switches, keypads, and electro-mechanical control assemblies are designed and manufactured in-house. Design Mark’s UI principles are the culmination of 40 years of experience in manufacturing and industrial controls, providing innovative solutions that help improve our customer’s operator efficiency.

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