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Disrupt Automation with User Experience Design

04 Jan 2021
Cecilia Boström

Companies working toward the consumer market have long invested in and understood the value of user experience (UX) design. A good user experience is a key differentiator in today's market, and by aligning your company to ensure that your customers get the best possible experience at every touchpoint, you are building your brand and your customer relations over the long term.

This is true whether you are delivering goods or services to end-customers or solely engage in B2B. However, the industry sector does not seem to act upon the same sense of urgency of delivering excellent user experiences as the B2C-sector. It is in most cases a lot easier for unhappy end-customers to swap their goods or services for the offering of the competitor than for business customers to do the same.

The competition is there nonetheless. Just because a particular business segment has not been challenged yet does not mean it will not be.

Customers' demands and expectations are ever changing, and what was once considered desirable might not necessarily be so in the future. Consider customer expectations for cars for example. When Tesla appeared from the side, selling luxury electric cars and winning significant market share, older car brands such as Volvo rushed to invest in electrifying their car fleet. Suddenly, electrification was an important differentiator. Thus, Tesla changed the rules of the game and disrupted the entire automotive industry.

Practicing UX design forces you to work from an outside-in perspective, starting with your target users, and working your way in. The essence of UX is to identify and fulfill user needs, not simply delivering on what users say that they want. A famous saying attributed to Henry Ford goes as follows: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It is also a quote that often appears within the UX community to highlight the importance of finding the root cause of a user problem.

Nevertheless, many companies dream up features inside the comfort of the office without any real understanding of the users they are targeting - sometimes even without a clear objective on what problem to solve.

When engaging in UX, you must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • For whom?
  • And why?

Being able to answer these three questions, will help you stay focused on the business outcomes and not get stuck into the details of the potential solution.

This will also keep your mind open to new ideas and opportunities on how to deliver on the user's needs. And above all, by being able to answer why, you make sure that you are aligned with your company's value framework and your own ethical standpoint.

Sometimes, killing a darling in its early phase is the best thing you can do for your business.

Usability as a Means for Faster Growth

Usability is a major part of user experience design and providing your users with tools that are easy to use will inevitably save them time and effort. Given that automating a business still requires a lot of manual work, we need to fine tune the tools needed to install an automated system.

Enhanced usability pays off in the long run.

For instance, imagine a task taking five minutes to perform. Now imagine how many times this task must be performed. Let us say twice a day. Then multiply that by the number of people having to perform it. Let us say we have two people working with this task. Now, adding the numbers together, over the course of a year with 260 working days, this five-minute task takes in total around 87 hours per year. Or put in other words, roughly over two full working weeks.

So seemingly small things can be worth looking into and improve on, as they may have big financial impacts over time.

To enable a continued fast growth of automation, we need to consider making all the activities around the installation process significantly easier to use. We can no longer require people to have an engineering background to be able to install an automated system.

This means that the tools that were once designed by engineers for other engineers need to drastically decrease in complexity. Fast growth requires ease of use. To achieve this, we need to understand and empathize with our target users and continuously test that we are on the right track.

Understand User Needs Before Investing in Tech Trends

It is easy to get seduced by emerging technological trends and feel the urgency to invest in whatever seems to be the hottest thing at the moment.

Be it machine learning, digital twins, blockchain technology, or 5G, we need to trust the UX process and ensure the focus lies on how we can make business while serving users’ needs.

Surely, AI might be an excellent enabler to solve a specific problem. But merely kicking off an AI initiative without a clear outcome in mind is a big risk and may just end up costing our business a lot of unnecessary effort.

There are loads of examples of innovative technology initiatives that failed to meet any user need and thus ended up as failures. However, when starting every initiative from our customers’ perspective, we are forcing ourselves to be considerate about what technology we are using to solve a particular problem. We will also have to consider whether the problem is actually worth solving.

When we put our customers and their experiences at the top of the agenda, we must stop assuming things and instead head out and meet them.

We need to talk to our users and watch them interact with our products and services, take notice of their behavior and study their context.

By doing this, we gradually start to understand their reality and over time we will build up user empathy. Being able to empathize with our users is a superpower that will lead to more mindful problem solving.

For example, the solutions might look quite different when we are designing tools for application engineers working in calm office environments and for service technicians working in noisy production facilities. Hence, applying UX practices when jumping on the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution ensures that we stay focused on what needs we want to serve before we decide on what technology to deploy to fill those needs.

Because ultimately, customers are the very reason businesses exist.

From The Robotic and Automation Almenac - 2021

About the Author

Cecilia Boström

Cecilia Boström, Kollmorgen AGV

Cecilia Boström is the User Experience Lead at Kollmorgen. She holds degrees in informatics and information technology from Gothenburg University and Chalmers University of Technology.

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