It takes a lot more than just some nice colors, fancy icons and flashy effects to create a good user interface (UI). Sure, everyone appreciates a good design and when you look at the LitePoint IQxstream® web-based UI, you will see a lot of work went into creating a good-looking UI.
But usability is a key part of a good interface design as well, and the UI should not take focus away from your task, but assist you in getting it done faster and easier. It should let you get the task done with fewer clicks, and with a minimum of navigation. Usability is about making the user feel the UI is intuitive, predictable, efficient and easy to use.
We can learn a lot by looking at consumer products. One of my friends gave me a good example the other day. He recently bought two new things; a smartphone and a baby stroller. The smartphone came with a one-page instruction sheet. The stroller came with a 56-page user manual. He had the smartphone up and running in a few seconds, but it took him a while to figure out how to put the stroller together and how to use its features. He actually needed the manual.
Without knowing the details, I assume the stroller was more designed with production, boxing and shipping in mind, than with usability. A stroller is really a simple product, compared to a smartphone, but somehow it was made complicated. To compensate for that, it came with a large user manual.
The smartphone is a very complex product, but with an intuitive user interface (simple menus, meaningful icons, buttons placed where you would expect them etc.), the smartphone was easy to get started using, without ever having to read a manual.
This is a similar strategy we are taking at LitePoint as we design the interfaces for our instruments. We believe that designing easy-to-use products is important so that operators can focus on accurate testing and not how the instrument works.
Take our IQxstream product as an example. It's a full-featured cellular test instrument, which can test multiple technologies - such as GSM, WCDMA, CDMA2000 and LTE. This could potentially be a difficult product to operate, so a lot of effort went into creating an intuitive and user friendly UI.
The IQxstream UI is web-based, so it will run on all common computer platforms (PC, Mac, Linux), typically without any software installation. Since the UI is web-based, the UI software is stored inside the instrument, and one of the advantages of that, is the UI will always match the software version the instrument it’s running. In other words, the UI software is never outdated, and never requires updates. It will be updated automatically when the instrument software is updated.
To ease the operation, all test technologies have the same menu structure, page tabs and control types. So once the user is familiar with the controls, it's easy to operate the instrument across technologies. Furthermore, only relevant settings and plots, related to the selected technology, are shown. This simplifies the operation, and the user can focus on doing their job, not on how the instrument works.
The UI is stored inside the instrument, so are the user guides and a SCPI command reference. These, like the UI, match the software version installed on the instrument, and they can be downloaded or viewed in the browser.
This might seem like a small thing, but think about the alternative: 1) Check which software version the instrument is running, 2) Go to the download section on a website, 3) Find the documents matching the instrument's software version, 4) Download and view it.
As mentioned, a good UI gets the job done with fewer steps.
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