Going GUI

The interface is everything; if a client isn't comfortable with it, the entire project is compromised.
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The interface is everything; if a client isn't comfortable with it, the entire project is compromised.

In the world according to Jeff Coryell, if a residential client isnt comfortable with an interface then they wont be satisfied with the entire project. Coryell is owner of the Tampa, Florida-based A/V systems design firm, Code Jockeys Inc., and is an independent Crestron Electronics programmer.

I dont care if the customer has spent a million dollars, he said. If the interface isnt great looking or does not work well, they wont use it.
Until recently, Coryell built his own templates or bought them from other sources. He now has another choice: free designer templates accessed directly from Crestron.

The Rockleigh, New Jersey-based company began introducing the first three templates in its libraryGel Blue, Gel Orange, and Gel Greenabout a year ago. Crestron plans to release Silver Jacket and Yellow Jacket at CEDIA. Multilayer Photoshop files, posted on a secure area on the Crestron web site, are available for dealers and programmers to view the form and functionality of the templates.

Right now we make templates to satisfy 15 different touchpanel sizes, from 3.6 inches up to 17 inches widescreen, said Crestron VP of technology, Fred Bargetzi. Each template consists of more than 300 pages of devices, including satellite radio and audio jukeboxes, that a dealer can plug into their particular project.

The templates are tailored for each panel, with variables such as screen size and features such as dual window or single window display. The Crestron templates, with a modern sleek look, are designed to be ergonomically and intuitively operated by the end-user, while fulfilling a timesaving service to the dealers and programmers who customize them according to their clients needs and desires. Crestrons goal is to give end-users the opportunity to get the maximum benefit of the touchpanels inherent capabilities.

Bargetzi says that the touchpanel template library was launched about a year ago in response to dealer requests and in an effort to make the end-user product more appealing. We rely on our dealer network to put the magic into the programming, he said. A touchpanel requires a person to bring it to life. What the customer sees is only the graphical interface, not the other boxes behind the scenes.

Crestron worked with a number of outside firms including GuiFX, owned by Audio Advisors Inc, a West Palm Beach, Florida, Crestron dealer. Bargetzi says that GuiFX helped design the first template release, Gel Blue, to support Crestrons SystemBuilder software. This afforded programmers with a complete toolbox. Crestron also works with a number of other A/V manufacturers to create downloadable drivers or programming modules, providing low-level protocols.

Crestron distributes these templates without charge to its dealers and programmers, providing the SystemBuilder 2.0, a fully integrated, graphical environment for easy start-to-finish design, programming, setup, and troubleshooting of all types of control systems using any type of interface.
Crestron, which invested about $200,000 in the template library to launch, has put together an art/engineering division, a team of 20 including four developers under graphic artist Gus Garramuno, and a product team. The templates also are localized for language by Crestrons international offices.

Its a team approach. The templates have to look good and reflect the end-users personal style as well as operating and controlling the system quickly and efficiently, Bargetzi said. If we design a product such as an XM satellite tuner, we know how it worksweve tested it on dealersand after we assess from an engineering standpoint, we go to Gus and say, Make it look good. Because we own and make product, we get a little more intimate with it. We tailor the templates to provide the best user experience. We make a concerted effort to analyze how users should experience these templates. Thats the heart of this effort.

There are, of course, other companies such as Control Concepts and NTDesigns, selling GUI designs. But if we develop a template of a style that others copied, nothing could make me happier, Bargetzi said. Were trying to put quality into our product. Part of the value added that an integrator brings is to take the template and customize it. Were giving dealers a springboard.

Nothing is locked down, he added. A dealer or programmer can render animation slower or faster, or disable or remove an icon. Its not that were doing it better, Bargetzi said. Were not replacing GuiFX, but were saying to our partners and dealers: This is not a finished product. You can use our templates to change colors, put on different skins, add or remove icons. We would like to set the standard, and we welcome GuiFX and others to take a look and then create their won templates from that. Were taking the Microsoft approach, that if we let everyone into our world, we all win.

Coryell, who has shown the new Crestron templates to customers, uses a Silver Jacket model in his demo room. They represent an extension of how Crestron really supports the market, he said. This should help dealers get their projects done faster and with greater ease. And theyre sharp looking and work well.

The Crestron templates will be added to a roster of choices Coryell offers to customers. Often a company puts out a package with pages but you cant change anything such a color, he said. Crestron gives you the source files so I can make a silver button or other graphic objects green, for example.
Coryell still plans to make customized templates when time allows. I enjoy building new ones but I have to weigh the cost of building it, buying it or getting it from Crestron. If Im spending time building graphics, Im not servicing my clients.

In designing its developers templates, Crestron has the advantage of experienced date gathering and dealer feedback, Bargetzi acknowledges. A lot of us have been in the A/V industry for 15 to 20 years, he said. My primary job is to create products that do all these wonderful things and are left for the integrators to discover. We expose the great functionality and this brings joy to me. I cant stand it when Im in someone elses house and I see four buttons and all they can do is operate the preset. This template project has my personal interestI like people to get excited.

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado.