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User Interface Technology

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What is User Interface Technology?

In manufacturing, a user interface (UI) is the portion of a product that allows people to interact with it. The goal of this interaction is effective control of the product, while the product feeds back information to aid the operator's decision-making. Examples of this broad concept of UIs include the interactive aspects of smartphones, computers, hand tools, and heavy machinery controls.

The objective of interface design is to produce UI controls that make it easy, efficient, and enjoyable (user-friendly) to operate a product in the way that yields a desired result. UIs are composed of one or more layers, including physical input hardware such as touchscreens, keypads, or mice — and output hardware such as computer monitors, speakers, and printers.

How Does User Interface Technology Work?

Typical design of user interface controls consists of the following three stages:

  1. Interaction specification: User-centered design, persona, activity-oriented design, scenario-based design, and resiliency design

  2. Interface software specification: Use cases and constrain enforcement by interaction protocols (intended to avoid use errors)

  3. Hardware production: Prototyping and scale manufacturing based on libraries of interface elements (controls, decoration, etc.)

A variety of UI technology can be incorporated to drive product operability. For example:

  • Direct Manipulation - Allows users to manipulate objects presented to them, using actions that correspond to the physical world

  • Elastomeric Keypads - Silicone molded tactile controls used in conjunction with an underlying switching layer

  • Gesture Interfaces - Graphical UIs that accept inputs in the form of hand or mouse gestures

  • Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) - Accept input via devices such as a keyboard and mouse and provide graphical output on the computer monitor

  • Hardware Interfaces - The physical, spatial interfaces found on products in the real world from toasters, to car dashboards, to airplane cockpits; Generally a mix of knobs, buttons, sliders, switches, and touchscreens

  • Membrane Switches - Keypad-like tactile interface that leverages flexible printed electronics to create low-profile buttons and controls.

  • Multi-screen Interfaces - Employ multiple displays to provide more flexible interaction; Often employed in computer gaming, both commercial arcades and handheld devices

  • Touchscreens - Displays that accept input by touch of fingers or a stylus; Used in mobile devices and many types of point of sale, industrial machinery, and self-service equipment

  • Touch User Interfaces - GUIs that use a touchpad or touchscreen display as a combined input and output device; Supplement or replace other forms of output with haptic feedback, as in computerized simulators

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Advantages of User Interface Technology

Effective user interface controls deliver the following benefits to an end user:

  • Suitable and sufficient to operate the product

  • Self-explanatory and comprehensible feedback

  • Ability for the user to initiate and control the direction and pace of the interaction until the operational goal has been met

  • Meets user expectations of operability and responsiveness

  • Product can tolerate errors in input, allowing the intended result to be achieved with minimal user action

  • Individualization based on task needs and user preferences and skill level

  • Supportive of user guidance in learning to use the product

User Interface Technology Materials

A wide range of components and materials are incorporated into user interface controls. Examples include:

  • Tactile and non-tactile domes - Metal, Polyester ("Polydomes"), Graphic

  • PET, Flex (Kapton), printed circuit boards

  • Elastomeric gaskets

  • Embedded LEDs

  • LCD or LCD window options

  • ESD, EMI, or RFI shielding components

  • Backlighting - LED, optical fiber, electroluminescent (EL)

  • Backer panels - Steel, Aluminum, PMMA

  • Plastic and metal enclosures for UI integration

  • Projected Capacitive Touchscreens - Glass/Glass, Glass/PMMA

  • Resistive Touchscreens - 4, 5, 8 wire

  • Standard and custom controllers - chip on flex, discrete PCBAs

  • USB or I2C Interface

  • Elastomeric keypads - wide variety of durometers, dual durometer keys, Carbon pills or actuators

  • LED windows, light pipes, diffusers

  • Laser etching, screen printing

  • Injection molded and overmolded plastic keycaps

User Interface Technology Applications

User interface controls are used in a wide range of industries and products. Some examples include:

  • Aerospace: Avionics, aircraft on-board equipment, airport security equipment, flight simulators and instrumentation

  • Consumer: Smartphones, tablets, computers, appliances, kiosks / self service

  • Defense: Fixed or mobile ground communications, tactical communications, control and security systems

  • Energy: Smart usage monitors and controls, clean energy instruments

  • Medical: Surgical and dental handpieces, wheelchairs and scooters, breast pumps, dialysis machines, ambulatory and fixed infusion pumps, cosmetic and surgical lasers, radiation therapy and linear accelerators

  • Technology: Communications, servers, scientific instrumentation, connected devices

  • Transportation: Cars, autonomous robotics, drones

User Interface Technology Manufacturers

Valmark Interface Solutions

Industry Association

User Interface Technology Resources

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