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The UX of LEGO Interface Panels

Exploring user interface design via legos

Most in­ter­faces in our world con­tain a blend of dig­i­tal screens and ana­log in­puts like switches and di­als

How can we dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the func­tion of dif­fer­ent in­puts? How can we or­gan­ise the many in­puts and out­puts so that we un­der­stand how they re­late to each other?

Designing in­ter­faces is about wrap­ping with the above two ques­tions, un­der­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships and func­tions. This ap­plies for GUIs or CLIs, end user or de­vel­oper ex­pe­ri­ences. Those are the two big hu­man/​ma­chine ques­tions.

Tools for dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing in­clude shape cod­ing:

The right panel (“Aircraft Multiple Flight Controls”) clearly dis­tin­guishes be­tween the throt­tle (large, lin­ear ver­ti­cal move­ment), tog­gle switches (round ver­ti­cal flick) and the push but­tons (square push-in).

Along with:

Colour cod­ing is per­haps the only one to break into our every­day vo­cab­u­lary, but we can add four more: size, tex­ture, po­si­tion and op­er­a­tion cod­ing. Together these six are our al­lies in the de­sign of er­ror-proof in­ter­faces.

Differentiation is a good first step that will avoid con­fu­sion be­tween ad­ja­cent switches. But its only with or­gan­i­sa­tion that we can cre­ate a clear and ac­cu­rate men­tal model of the in­ter­face for the user.

Differentiation sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Organizational tech­niques in­clude dis­trib­uted and con­sol­i­dated:

These pan­els are what I’d called a con­sol­i­dated in­ter­face. Every piece of in­put and feed­back has been moved onto the same panel. This is the ap­proach that Dyson took with their car. Now imag­ine the op­po­site, mov­ing each of those lights and switches to the ac­tual lo­ca­tion of that valve in the fac­tory. Sounds lu­di­crous, but these air vents in the Audi TT show that this dis­trib­uted ap­proach can also be a great win for user ex­pe­ri­ence. I wrote a lot more about these dis­trib­uted in­ter­faces last year.

Feature based, op­er­a­tion based, tech­nol­ogy based.

Any touch­screen with but­tons by the side ex­hibits this tech­nol­ogy-based split. In a fu­ture world, SpaceX might em­bed these phys­i­cal con­trols right in­side the screen next to the in­for­ma­tion they af­fect, but for now they sit awk­wardly by the side as if noth­ing is wrong.

Technology based or­ga­ni­za­tion is not hu­man cen­tered, and there­for not ideal UX.