User-friendly interfaces: Treating data sets like recommendations from a friend

Data from smart, connected devices and related external data may come in an array of formats, such as sensor readings, locations, temperatures and history. In order to understand the patterns, the spreadsheets and database tables need to be suited to user’s needs.

Ideally, the interface would not require the user to undergo training in order to be able to use it. As far as text is concerned, it is crucial that the messages avoid ambiguity, inaccuracy, inconsistency and inadequacy in order to ensure more safety, fewer errors and higher productivity.

To capture and display maintenance-relevant information, MANTIS is designing user-friendly industry dashboards for control rooms combined with mobile extensions on the go. As MANTIS use cases vary from railway maintenance to healthcare equipment maintenance, strongly dependent on individual technical constraints, there is no common, specific MANTIS Human Machine Interface (HMI) design.

However, as central feature of most design use cases is displaying data of monitoring process and responding to alarms, parallels can be drawn and best use practices can be used in MANTIS.

E.g. presenting information such as asset maintenance history, the overall condition, sensor data and analysis was a task assigned to XLAB in several other past and current projects. We describe how feedback gained from two successful past projects – the spin off company Sentinel Marine Solutions and FINESCE smart buildings – helped draw up guidelines. Special emphasis was placed on user experience (UX), creating a relationship with the user over time and on how he feels during the whole lifecycle of the product.

The IMPACT-accelerated startup and FIWARE technology implementer Sentinel Marine Solutions follows the overall state of the boat and allows real time access to sensor data to avoid e.g. batteries losing charge. Crucial boat parameters, water level, temperature readings, battery voltage, bilge pump, are presented on a user-friendly interface – tablet, smartphone or dashboard in the control room or cabin (Image below).

Monitoring is done continuously, providing rich information about one or several vessels’ position, voltage, temperature – where ever the user may be, on land or off shore. That is why Sentinel keeps it simple, to avoid cluttering and confusion, and complements it with a visually pleasing design for sustained usage of application.

HMI battery status maintenance
HMI battery status maintenance
hmi sensors maintenance
hmi sensors maintenance

Work on previous research projects confirms that it is worth investing a significant part of the application development into how the system presents data to the end users. Within the FINESCE project, the top part of the presentation layer was designed by XLAB. The interface connects data on energy generation and consumption in smart factories and smart buildings. It had to be optimized for quick retrieval and display in order to identify deviations and enable fast responses.

The application has many views showing specific aspects of the data, but each in a context that is relevant to the workflows of end users – below an example of the Smart building consumption Overview tab.

Last but not least, the aim of the design of these applications was to present the data to the users with a pleasing appearance, while at the same time offer crucial visual information on the current and past energy consumption.