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Interface design, 2002: Industry Briefs

IX.2 March 2002
Page: 87
Digital Citation

Siemens AG


Authors:


back to top  Philosophy of Design

At SIEMENS the User Interface Design Center is part of Corporate Technology, the central research and development department. User Interface Design Center's mission is to offer innovative customer-focused solutions to SIEMENS business units and external organizations in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. User Interface Design specialists work on customer projects and do research in groundbreaking fields. Our design philosophy is based on three primary components: ease and joy of use; goal-oriented design; and a design pattern approach.

In achieving ease and joy of use, we aim at designing interfaces that are not only intuitive and efficient but also attractive to the customer. To achieve usable designs, we apply usability-engineering methods such as focus groups, customer interviews, and site visits to elicit design requirements. Furthermore, usability inspections, walkthroughs and (remote) evaluations ensure the full optimization potential of the interfaces we design. Interaction designers and visual designers develop user interface prototypes. In this way, we achieve an optimal user interface that integrates a user-oriented design concept ensuring ease and joy of use.

The second key aspect in goal-oriented design is closely related to ease and joy of use. Goal orientation in user interfaces supports users obtaining what they want to do effectively and efficiently. In this context, goals are aims of the user's application and work area. Also, goal-oriented design ensures that decision-critical information and functions are prominently represented to the user.

The third component of our philosophy is the design and use of reusable user interface design patterns. When we identify how the ideal order process works for a user, we are able to document a concrete solution design as an "order process pattern." Through documentation of this best practice, we are able to communicate the body of knowledge to our design teams worldwide. In follow-up projects, we are able to reuse documented knowledge and can come up with a more economical project proposal for our clients.

back to top  Design Process

Infusing our design philosophy into a process, we identify four distinct and critical process phases: analysis, design, evaluation, and building. During analysis, we frequently carry out focus groups as well as on-site user interviews and customer workshops. The goal of the analysis phase is to elicit requirements for functionality and content as well as for the use of the interface. In the design process, interaction and visual designers develop the concept of use and prototypes are built as proof of product concept. Following this, a usability evaluation is done in order to fully optimize the prototype's potential. After redesigning, we compile the design specification, and we build the interface.

Our methods and tools are continuously being refined by means of post-mortem project analysis and internal reviews. We also research new project-specific methods and tools to better serve our clients' project needs.

High-quality methods and tools are of great importance for SIEMENS global product reach. There are two main areas: international user interface design and certification of user interface products.

In our international products, we gather requirements in different countries. After the design of the user interfaces and implementation of the prototype, usability tests are done in parallel in those countries. To identify intercultural differences concerning requirements and design, there is a specific need for an internationally validated method for user interface design and usability engineering processes. Every necessary change in the method set is internationally communicated. The hands-on learning experiences of our staff guarantee the necessary updates to our methods.

Another important aspect of our unique method is the client option to certify software products according to the worldwide valid usability standards of ISO 9241. A requirement for accreditation is the documentation of processes, methods, and work instructions according to ISO 9241 and ISO 13407 (human-centered development). External, independent assessors periodically audit the SIEMENS user interface design processes.

back to top  Sample Design Project

Recently, our international team of experts worked with SIEMENS Information and Communication Networks (ICN), a leading provider of integrated voice and data networks for enterprises, carriers, and service providers in the United States and overseas. Headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, ICN asked User Interface Design to redesign a prototype B2B (business-to-business) Web site to make it more responsive to customer needs. The project was targeted toward U.S., German, and British customers purchasing telecommunications equipment and services online.

The customers' purchasing activities and service requests on the B2B site should be as easy and simple as possible, that is, supporting the user's workflow. Another dimension of this project was to provide an attractive and effective user experience (to maximize ease and joy of use). Identifying job-related goals helped to design particular Web pages, for example, the home page and post-login. The user interfaces needed to contain only few relevant design patterns to offer the users a similar look-and-feel in different scenarios.

The project activities started with account interviews to record ICN's point of view on how their customers interacted with the site to purchase voice and data solutions as well as to request technical service. User interface design specialists were able to quickly get insight into how SIEMENS clients would interact with an online solution. Next, they visited ICN clients in Palo Alto, Chicago, Long Island, and Duesseldorf to elicit ICN clients' input on the purchasing and servicing process and contrast it with that of ICN's on mental model of their users' activities. Clients who participated in the on-site interviews were impressed with the way ICN accepted their ideas and input and also with the fact that their clients cared about their tasks.

Next, customers from the represented companies participated in focus groups at the Princeton lab and in Berlin to help identify the appropriate set of functions and content, and UID experts helped uncover how the user expected to interact with the Web site.

Following the focus group sessions, UID staff was able to design a well-defined set of functions, plus the expected information and content for a screen layout of the B2B Web site. Most of the improvements suggested by the users were adopted, for example, the creation of service reports. Normally, an account manager would need several days to compile a report that listed all customer inquiries. Implementing UID suggestions—report creation went from three days to three mouse clicks—ensuring quicker responses to customer concerns and increasing customer satisfaction.

Another critical improvement was to obtain quotes for small equipment orders that were also sped up by installing an online quote calculator. By providing estimates automatically, this time-consuming process was reduced from five days to some five minutes. The focus groups delivered low-fidelity screen sketches detailing click-through paths, appropriate labeling, and targeted content for each Web page. At the end of this project, a new method, Another Method for Gathering Design Requirements in E-Business User Interface Design Projects (NOGAP) for gathering requirements in a highly time constrained project was developed and successfully applied. By using appropriate moderating techniques, the customers validated the tasks flows obtained in the previous interviews.

Equipped with all the tools for building the Web site, UID interaction and visual designers implemented a prototype. For this prototype we used available user interface design patterns: home page before login, home page after login, category page, product page, product configurator, order process, service tickets, and order tracking and tracing. All the patterns were already usability-tested interface component solutions.

Subsequently, the pattern-based prototype was comparatively tested against an existing one; it yielded a 50 percent better level of usability (based on an error-class matrix developed by UIDC) and the task completion rate was three times better.

Currently, the pattern-based B2B Web site is being implemented, with U.S., German, and British customers expected to go online in early 2002.

back to top  Authors

Stefan Schoen, Department Head
Stefan.Schoen@mchp.siemens.de

Helmut Degen, Senior Consultant
Helmut.Degen@mchp.siemens.de

Nuray Aykin, Manager
Aykin@scr.siemens.com

Arnold Rudorfer, Senior Human Factors Specialist
Arnold.Rudorfer@scr.siemens.com

Xiaowei Yuan, Manager
xiaowei.yuan@pek1.siemens.com.cn

The SIEMENS user interface design teams elicit customer requirements, design, and evaluate user interfaces to ensure a high degree of usability and attractiveness. Our main vertical markets are e-business applications, industrial automation, mobile devices, automotive cockpits, and medical solutions. To date, more than 100 products have been designed or tested, or both, in the User Interface Design (UID) centers, including washing machines, cell phones, software, automotive dashboard computer, hearing aids, computer tomographs, automation devices, and even power plant process control systems. The UID centers, in close cooperation with our global customer base, help SIEMENS determine the needs, likes, and dislikes of real users.

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Stefan Schoen

UF2Figure. Helmut Degen

UF3Figure. Nuray Aykin

UF4Figure. Arnold Rudorfer

UF5Figure. Xiaowei Yuan

UF6Figure. Usability Lab

UF7Figure. Homepage after login: Design not finalized yet.

back to top  Sidebar: Company Snapshot

Job titles

Consultant
Human Factors Specialist/Usability Engineer
Information Architect
Interaction Designer
Senior Human Factors Specialist/Senior Usability Engineer
Senior Consultants
Technical Adviser
User Interface Designer
Visual Designer

Job qualifications

Business administration
Computer science
Electrical engineering
Human-computer interaction
Human factors engineering
Industrial design
Information and communication science
Mechanical engineering
Pedagogic
Physics
Psychology
Semiotics
Social Science

Number of individuals employed in design and usability

About 35 people in the User Interface Design centers worldwide

Project teams

Project teams typically include usability engineers, visual design, software engineering, product management, and marketing people.

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench

Resources

Interactions, webreview.com, usableweb.com, cnet.com, www.useit.com

Tools

Adobe Photoshop®, Illustrator®; Microsoft Visio®, PowerPoint®, Visual Studio®; Macromedia Director®, Freehand®, Flash®, Dreamweaver®; NPS, RapidPLUS™

Sources of inspiration:

The Timeless Way of Building (Christopher Alexander), Walt Disney, Star Trek, Hall of Shame and Hall of Fame, lunch time with our team

back to top 

©2002 ACM  1072-5220/02/0300  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2002 ACM, Inc.

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