March 2011
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Leveraging the Graphic User Interface
“Deliver on the Promise” - Leverage Graphic User Interface Standards to drive Customer Satisfaction and Ensure Expert Results.

  William L. Parrish II, BSME (Rose-Hulman)
General Manager,
ControlGraphics.com

The first Graphical User Interface (GUI) was designed by Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s. In 2011, the benefits of properly implemented GUI are generally known and widely accepted. Within virtually any industry, most would agree that an expertly designed GUI offers the promise of improving the way people interact with technology. GUI advocates routinely promise a wide range of benefits including ease of use, higher productivity, and greater accessibility. An effective Building Automation System GUI has the potential to help reduce a facility’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). However within the Building Automation Industry those promises too often go unfulfilled and the potential is too often unrealized. The lack of widespread adoption of well-defined and expertly designed Graphic Standards that are easy to implement is a primary reason.

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Don’t Roll the Dice!

Use Standards to Control the Outcome.
Implementation of Building Automation System GUI is a unique challenge because every building’s GUI is required to be unique. The BAS GUI typically includes real-time interactive representations of building systems including HVAC, Life Safety, Access/Surveillance, Lighting, Utility Monitoring, etc. Most will include floor plans, and system schematics. By definition a facility’s BAS GUI is a custom GUI.

Designing and implementing an effective custom BAS GUI requires domain knowledge relevant to the systems being represented. It requires detailed knowledge of how GUI is implemented for the specific BAS platform. It also requires knowledge and skills across several other domains including graphic design, 3D modeling, usability/human factors, and GUI design. Because BAS GUIs are most often implemented by controls contractors and system integrators, implementations that leverage all of the expertise required to produce a custom GUI that lives up to the BAS’s potential are very rare. Custom GUI development without strict adherence to well-defined standards is effectively a roll of the dice with typical results ranging from totally embarrassing to somewhat acceptable. Expertly designed Graphic Standards that are easy to implement encapsulate the expertise that is usually absent from a contractor or integrator implementation process enabling consistent expert results.

ControlGraphics.com’s J4 Series Design Standard is a well-defined and expertly designed standard that is easy to implement and enables anyone with system domain knowledge to consistently produce more expert results.

Figure 1  J4 Series

Figure 1: The J4 Series Design Standard includes 3 views for each system schematic. (click an image for full screen interactive demo.)

Call Your Shot!

Use Standards to establish an Unambiguous Definition of Success.
“design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works” – Steve Jobs, Apple

Failure to communicate effectively to BAS users how the facility’s custom GUI will look, feel, and work, BEFORE development actually begins is another significant factor that undermines the success of BAS GUI implementations. The use of clearly defined and effectively demonstrated Graphic Standards is the most successful strategy that can be employed to effectively establish an “Unambiguous Definition of Success”. Well-defined Standards allow you “Call your Shot”. They allow you to say to the client and other project constituents. “This is the result that I will produce. This is the definition of success.” If you fail to effectively communicate Standards as a provider of a custom GUI, what you plan to deliver is on some level ambiguous. Success is not clearly defined, and if you aren’t extremely careful, you will lose the ability to define it, no matter how expert you are in your chosen domain. Worse yet, you may allow another party with conflicting interests and an insufficient level of expertise to define the meaning of success. In the worst of all cases, that definition is continually changing.

ControlGraphics.com’s E5 Series Design Standard is a well-defined and expertly designed standard that features largest library of conforming system schematics available anywhere in the world, allowing BAS users to know precisely how the custom BAS GUI will look, feel, and work before actual implementation begins.

Figure 2 E5 Series

Figure 2: The E5 Series Design Standard features a library of hundreds of conforming schematics. (click an image for full screen interactive demo.)

Design the Experience!

Use Standards to deliver differentiated “Value Sets”.
Any discussion with vendors, integrators, and end users about the development and enforcement of GUI Standards, has to confront the lack of consensus among different constituents regarding the definition of a properly design Building Automation System GUI. Different BAS users have distinctly different and sometimes conflicting needs and therefore any attempt to advance a “one size fits all” strategy is doomed to failure. The term Graphical User Interface could aptly be replaced by the perhaps more lucid term Graphic User Experience. GUI Standards must define more than colors, dimensions, and fonts, they must define the User Experience. To be viable, custom GUI Standards must be pragmatic and adaptable to different and changing user needs while still enforcing boundaries that ensure the User Experience is always efficient and satisfying.

Although certain design principles and best practices are relevant to any GUI implementation, no single GUI Design Standard can effectively accommodate the different needs of all BAS users. Therefore it is critical to understand the distinct user groups and their specific goals, needs, and priorities. With that understanding, the appropriate standard can be selected or developed within a framework that encapsulates all of the domain expertise necessary to ensure an effective User Experience.

We offer several distinct GUI Design Standards each designed around a very specific set of objectives and providing a unique set of benefits.

ControlGraphics.com’s J5 Series Design Standard utilizes high contrast color coded components that are easily discernable by less technically oriented users.

Figure 3 J5 Series

Figure 3: The J5 Series Design Standard’s high contrast reduces potential for eye strain at higher resolutions. (click an image for full screen interactive demo.)

Deliver the Experience!

Smart Tools facilitate the adoption, proliferation, and effective implementation of GUI Standards.
We recently released Mi-GUIDE (Multi-Platform Intelligent – Graphic User Interface Development Environment), a Microsoft Visio toolset that enables creation of Standards based graphics for multiple platforms including Tridium Niagara AX, Johnson Controls Metasys Extended Architecture, and Iconics Genesis32, with support for additional platforms coming soon. Mi-GUIDE provides the most productive and cost effective way for users to create beautiful, highly functional, standards compliant, graphics for supported platforms without requiring specific knowledge of the platforms. Mi-GUIDE can accommodate and help to enforce virtually any standard whether its developed by ControlGraphics.com, a third party, or you. Mi-GUIDE Plus+ will be available beginning March 7, 2011, adding automated object binding to the already impressive Mi-GUIDE feature set. Mi-GUIDE and Mi-GUIDE Plus+, combined with the incomparable selection of compatible content we offer including templates, symbol sets, 3D equipment, and system schematics, offer by far the broadest and most cost effective set of options for producing Standards compliant custom graphic user interfaces.

Figure 4aFigure 4bFigure 43

Figure 4: ControlGraphics.com’s soon to be available 3D Equipment Superstore will feature the Largest and Fastest Growing 3D Equipment Library available anywhere. (click an image for larger animated version.)

Stay Informed!

The narrative surrounding BAS GUI Standards is rapidly developing. Stay up to date with the latest relevant developments from ControlGraphics.com by regularly reviewing the weekly updated News Summary or visiting the ControlGraphics.com website.


About the Author
William L. Parrish II, BSME (Rose-Hulman) is currently General Manager of ControlGraphics.com, a leading innovator in the development of graphic user interface solutions for the Building Automation Industry. During his career, he has pioneered several industry innovations in the areas of ecommerce and GUI development process automation.

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