I recently had the opportunity to view interfaces (GUIs) from around the globe, from small companies to large companies, and you know what? We can do better. I get it; we are not graphic designers, but we certainly can instill ideas of graphic design into the one part of the system the client interacts with. Be it a remote, touch screen, or a tablet, we need to raise the bar.
Step into the Light
Lose the black background. It is dark and murky; it makes many colors and icons hard to see, and frankly, it is outdated. Look around at the design of the house, besides the theater itself, and most walls and rooms are not dark. They are clean and bright, inviting your touchscreen to be the same and complement the home.
A picture icon is worth a thousand words. GUI by NTDesigns
From youngsters to a baby boomers (whose eyesite may be not what it used to be), icons are easier to understand. Is it easier to hit a picture of a music note or a button that says, “Streaming?” Of course, we know what steaming means, but does the nanny, the wife, or the husband? Take a step back from our jargon and make it simpler. This goes for lighting design, too. Installing a lighting system with lots of buttons that are hardly readable is no better than installing a bank of light switches across the wall.
Less is More
Just because you may want to adjust the color and hue of your new flat screen every other day does not mean the client does. Look at each page of your interface as an advertisement or a billboard—you only have three seconds to read it. Now decide what buttons you really need. If you just have to add all the buttons that the AVR remotes comes with, add a hidden or extra page and keep it out of site for the most part. Keep each page clean.
Backgrounds should also be simple without the addition of fancy photos behind the buttons for they make everything harder to read. If the client demands his new car or a family photo be a part of the interface, then place it next to the buttons, not behind it. Let your screens breath.
Blueprints are for Architects and Builders
There is a reason people go have to go to school to learn to design and read blueprints, and it is not so they can put them on a touchscreen. Find a better way to convey the message, for this is your canvas.
Create the Home Page for the Home
Your main home screen should give “at-a-glance” information. Depending on your client's needs, this will change. If they commute, then traffic RSS feeds may be important. If you live in Buffalo, then you’ll want to know today’s weather (this time of year it could be 30 degrees or 80 degrees depending on the day). Should your client be a surfer on the coast of California, then he may desire a wave report (I’m sure such a thing exists, right?). Talk to your client and make their life better with this new amazing technology. Give them the information before they have to ask. (NOTE: If you have sold a system that cannot give this information cleanly and simply, don’t “make” it work. Leave it be.)
GUI by NTDesigns
Buy the Brilliance
If you’re not a designer at heart, then subcontract or purchase it from someone who is. There are some amazing companies out there that “get it,” and can offer a better experience to your clients. Companies like NTDesigns offer stunning themes for purchase, and before you think you cannot afford it, there are some Crestron themes for only $199.
Companies like Fregosa Designs can take over the whole program for you from afar (See Todd Puma’s blog: Choosing the Right Third-Party Programming Partners). You’ve worked hard selling, designing, installing this amazing system that practically defies gravity, and now there is nothing wrong with using experts to be the ‘icing on the cake,’ and blowing away your clients expectations.
As an Industry, we can do better when it comes to the one part of the system the client actual touches. I am sure there are some amazing designs out there that I have not had the pleasure of experiencing, but as a trade, we need to improve. Rethinking your interface will not only up your game for your clients but will improve and grow the industry as a whole. Let’s agree to do better.
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.