The UX of Lego Interface Panels (2020)

Plotting the panels across these two axes exposes a few different clusters. A small cluster of really organised switch panels lies to the far.

These renowned, low-resolution styles are the ideal tool to discover the essentials of physical interface design. Armed with 52 various bricks, lets see what they can teach us about the design, design and organisation of intricate interfaces.

Invite to the world of LEGO UX design.

At a look, the range of these designs can be frustrating, however its clear that a few of these user interfaces look far more disorderly than others. A lot of user interfaces in our world include a blend of digital screens and analog inputs like dials and switches. These LEGO panels are no various.

Organised turmoil

August 2020
Piloting an ocean expedition ship or Martian research study shuttle is major service. Lets hope the control panel is up to scratch. Two studs wide and angled at 45 °, the ubiquitous “2×2 decorated slope” is a LEGO minifigures user interface to the world.

Style positioning with LEGO, in LEGO

Designing a complex maker interface is a juggling act of various aspects from ergonomics to engineering. But we can break down the problem into two essential concerns:

How can we separate in between the function of various inputs?
How can we organise the lots of inputs and outputs so that we understand how they connect to each other?

Distinguishing inputs

His momentary option was to glue differently formed strips of rubber to each switch, allowing blind operation by touch alone. This triggered the concept of shape coding and a system of differentiation still being followed in airplane cockpits today.

Lets take a much deeper take a look at taking on these 2 challenges in LEGO.

What could cause 400 WWII pilots to raise the landing equipment on their B-17 bomber simply prior to touchdown? Catastrophic pilot error, or something more basic?

We can compare the 3 interfaces listed below to see this in action. Ignore the overall layout, its the differences between private switches that matter here. Imagine attempting to feel for one of these buttons without looking. The left panel (” Slope 45 2 x 2 with 12 Buttons”) would need careful hand-eye co-ordination. The best panel (” Aircraft Multiple Flight Controls”) plainly identifies between the throttle (large, direct vertical movement), toggle switches (round vertical flick) and the push buttons (square push-in).

B-17 stomach landing, and the shape coding that assisted to remove the problem. Source: Wikipedia

It was the psychologist Alphonsis Chapanis who first suggested that the high rate of crash landings might be the fault of poor user interface design. The nearby landing gear and flap control knobs were identically formed. The pilots never stood a possibility.

Delegated right: terrible, poor and better input differentiation

Differentiation like this is a still a really genuine problem today. In 2015, Ford remembered 13,500 Lincoln SUVs since drivers speeding down the freeway were mistakenly shutting down the engine when they tried to activate sport mode. See if you can identify why:

Ford Lincoln MKC prior to the Engine start/stop button was moved. Source: CNN

Position-coding is apparently uncomplicated however is typically under used. Products with a clear default ergonomic position (like binoculars or a gaming console) can make use of the natural position of the hand to distinguish in between secondary and main actions.

Lastly, operation-coding ascribes different types of movements (like a twist or vertical slide) to different inputs. This can be profoundly powerful when the switch motion reinforces the operation behind it, e.g. a crane lever which raises the crane when the lever is raised.

Shape, colour-coding and size are the basics: quick-wins that can repair a great deal of interface problems. Texture is also a terrific differentiator for blind operation, particularly on little dials requiring accurate control.

The 6 basic codings. Notice that much of these examples in fact combine multiple codings in one.

Forming coding is one approach to differentiation, but there are many others. Colour coding is maybe the only one to break into our everyday vocabulary, but we can add 4 more: size, operation, texture and position coding. Together these 6 are our allies in the style of error-proof interfaces.

The 6 different codings in use in the LEGO interfaces: size, shape, colour, texture, position, operation

Compare the three panels listed below. Identical layouts, however the blue one is much clearer than the white. This is the gestalt concepts at work, identifying related products with a typical area.

Differentiation is a good initial step that will avoid confusion in between adjacent switches. However its only with organisation that we can create a clear and precise psychological design of the user interface for the user.

Arranging inputs

Fundamental differentiation by clustering

Organising by operation means putting all the switches that function in a specific way in the exact same location. Ive no idea what all the valves in the photo below do, but I bet they dont all open things that relate to each other. Anytime you see a row of switches that look and work the very same, but control diverse parts of the system, youve discovered organisation by operation.

I like to utilize Soviet control panels as a beginning point. These gorgeous walls of nonsensical dials and levers are brought to life when organized in a huge factory schematic. It would be tough to discover a more literal organisation of the details.

All of our methods so far: organisation by features, operation or technology, have been grounded in properties of the system, not of the user. Organisation by use-case is the remedy to this, a clustering based on the daily regimens and jobs of the user.

Source: Twitter @aglushko.

Bob and Doug in the SpaceX Dragon pill. Source: SpaceX.

LEGO use the Soviet schematic technique for their dream orientated styles, due to the fact that schematics are excellent at supplying a psychological design of the inner workings of an alien system. Nevertheless for everyday use, there are some other techniques that work much better.

There are many LEGO panels with a technology split like the SpaceX Dragon capsule, but I like to imagine that this early 90s authorities control system was forced to divide the audio and video playback because the newer tape reel technology was incompatible with the older analog phone line system. This is organisation by innovation in action.

The modern-day equivalent of this is surprisingly typical. Any touchscreen with buttons by the side displays this technology-based split. In a future world, SpaceX may embed these physical controls right inside the screen next to the info they affect, however for now they sit awkwardly by the side as if absolutely nothing is incorrect.

L-to-R: organisation by feature, operation, technology and use case.

Soviet control board in action. Source: Present and Correct

These panels are what I d called a combined interface. Every piece of input and feedback has actually been moved onto the very same panel. This is the technique that Dyson took with their automobile. Now envision the opposite, moving each of those lights and changes to the real place of that valve in the factory. Sounds ludicrous, however these air vents in the Audi TT reveal that this dispersed approach can likewise be an excellent win for user experience. I wrote a lot more about these dispersed user interfaces last year.

Today most interfaces are effectively fly-by-wire, however historically the levers that you drew in, say, a tractor cabin would actually move the hydraulic pistons beneath the seat to a new position. Routing all these various electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems efficiently can seriously jeopardize your user interface clustering, causing organisation by technology.

Back to the Soviet factories. Those user interface panels were excellent for answering the question “does this valve let water into tank Б?”. However theyre extremely bad for addressing “are all water valves closed?” or “where are all the switches I require to get ready for the shift changeover?”.

Feature based organisation is the most typical, maybe even the “default” style approach. Group together all the inputs and outputs for each item function. This COVID-19 ventilator from Cambridge Consultants is a terrific example but we likewise see this a lot in cars, with a cluster of switches for the airflow control and all of the lights on one control stick.

In LEGO we discover the function based organisation in the “Monitor with -19 ° pattern”. Two clear clusters, perhaps one for temperature level control and another for vital signs monitoring. In the 2nd panel listed below, I dont understand what all those switches do, however they seem to be clustered based on their operation, not due to the fact that of what they will operate.

COVID-19 ventilator by Cambridge Consultants with clear feature-based organisation. Source: Cambridge Consultants.

LEGO Insectoid and UFO interfaces. I question what these buttons actually do?

Lego automobile control panel: dispersed (left) vs. consolidated (best).

Easy. But how are you going to choose which inputs to cluster together?

Think of showing up for work each day at the LEGO body scanner factory. Grouping the switches by task (prepare device, load body, procedure scan …) would imply splitting up the radiation and scanner buttons into many various regions.

However George, which is the very best user interface?

I often state theres no such thing as the very best user interface, but there are plenty of examples of the worst user interface.

Beautiful interface panels.

At a glance, the variety of these designs can be frustrating, but its clear that some of these user interfaces look far more disorderly than others. Many interfaces in our world consist of a blend of digital screens and analog inputs like switches and dials. It was the psychologist Alphonsis Chapanis who first recommended that the high rate of crash landings might be the fault of poor user interface design. These panels are what I d called a combined interface. Those interface panels were excellent for responding to the question “does this valve let water into tank Б?”.

Nevertheless I do have 3 favourites. Gorgeous, visual layouts with clearly differentiated inputs and simple, clean organisation. I d be happy to sit behind the console of any of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.