UI/UX in Engineering Softwares

A few months ago I started learning about UI/UX designs and my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of creativity and colours. Naturally, out of curiosity I have started applying UI/UX theories to the softwares I use everyday in my job and found that engineering softwares in my field are rather lacking in the design department.

A few days ago I had a manufacturer present their products to me (in hopes of making sales), he was very proud to present a software that they developed in house to select their products. However their first page turned me off straight away.

Commercial Air-conditioning Selection Program

There is just too much colour (to put it politely), they literally picked every single colour in the rainbow and some extras to fill in all the options. The page is hard on the eyes and repulsive (imagine the pain if you were an engineer and had to use this on a daily basis). I thought about the 3 colour rule and how colours should be related to branding in this case the use of tints and shades of red and grey would be more appropriate and more aesthetic (grey is really trendy right now).

The other pages doesn’t get much better..

Product Selection Page

Engineers use spreadsheets a lot so its very natural to see products as a spreadsheet. However, it is very stale and also quite confusing at times. One good thing about this page is that it only used blue as the main colour.

Another product that I use everyday for calculating thermal loading in buildings is called CAMEL.

Thermal Loading Program

This is the typical type of product you see developers produce without much user involvement and does not cater for user flow.

Project Loading Screen

As a result the interface is clunky and many features that are meant to ease user input actually frustrate the process. An example is the load project feature, when you load a project you expect that the next time you load the project it will remain in the same folder so you do not have to go through the whole folder structure to reach your destination folder. If users had been part of the design process, this obvious hindrance to user flow would have been spotted.

Finally, the screen in which we input our calculation variables.

Input Variables Page in CAMEL

Again, this is like filling in a spreadsheet, a lot of repetition can be avoided and there are many variables presented on the same screen which can be a cognitive overload at times. The interface is not intuitive, however after many hours using this software you can start to memorise which column represents what variable. There is a sharp learning curve, something which could be avoided if users and better design techniques were considered first.

In engineering, the general consensus is as long as something works it doesn’t matter if it looks bad. Maybe that is why we have a hard time with architects.

After studying UI/UX principles I have come to realise the error of our ways. Good design has a major effect on efficiency, effectiveness and enjoyability which can make our jobs much easier and perhaps even fun. Hopefully in the future engineering companies will come to see the benefits of good UI/UX and deem it as an irreplaceable part of the design process.

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