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Mar 2, 2022

Hello, future – dimensions of a modern HMI

Especially in manufacturing, we often observe: Machines are functionally excellent, but have a visually outdated user interface. Here, mechanical engineering companies can stand out from their competition and clearly position themselves with a modern HMI. But what exactly does modernizing mean? Modernization goes beyond picking up on visual trends: An HMI is modern when it meets a wide range of current requirements. If it considers the needs of users, transports your brand and fully exploits the possibilities of your technology. We will show you how to shape your HMI successfully for the future.

For users, the design of an HMI is a window to the product. The technical progress of your machines should also be reflected in their visual appearance, the HMI. Thanks to smartphones and other devices, users are familiar with attractive design and simple operation in their everyday lives. In the work context, they transfer this everyday experience to UIs. They expect good usability and user experience across different systems – from fixed displays on the machine to desktop workstations and mobile devices. The human-centered modernization of an HMI is an important factor for satisfied clients and strong brand loyalty. It is associated with expenses – but also involves economic and ecological advantages. An intuitive HMI avoids operating errors and reduces learning time and support costs. It makes the operation of the machine safer and your product more sustainable.

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But what exactly makes your HMI modern? Three dimensions are interlinked: The users, your brand and the underlying technology.

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Users stay.

What role do users and the HMI still play when machines are becoming increasingly digital and intelligent? Does the smart factory still need people? Our years of experience in the industry show: People will continue to control production in the future. And their tasks and roles are becoming more diverse and differentiated. For example, employees responsible for order planning need an overview of production. Machine operators, however, are primarily interested in the productivity of their machines in an overall context. An HMI must meet these different needs.

Therefore, machine manufacturers need to know their target groups well: What is the reality on site? Who are the users, and what are their goals? What information do they need and in what form? This is where the human-centered design process helps. This first analyzes the context of use and the target groups with their needs and goals. The resulting requirements must then be translated into a human-centered design in the design phase. Aesthetics play a central role. However, it is not enough to simply transfer common design and interaction trends to an HMI. The task of HMI concept designers is the user-centered design of the interaction, considering the special context of use in the workshop.

Not everything that makes consumers happy when using it on their smartphones can be transferred directly to the industrial working environment. A well-known example is the different light situation on site. Contrasts should therefore be higher than users expect from current apps, contrary to all trends. The key is to design an HMI that enables users to make fast and smart decisions. The visual design helps users recognize which actions are coming next, whether user intervention is required, and what conclusions can be drawn from collected data.

The brand becomes visible.

However, a modern HMI must not only fit the context of use, but also your brand – while consistently conveying your brand message. The central question is: How can your brand identity be linked to current visual trends and made visible across all touchpoints? Because today, it's no longer just about ONE machine. The trend is toward cross-machine and cross-device ecosystems with complementary services that should all be operated and experienced consistently. This requires a holistic view of all your target groups' touchpoints with the product. We will help you answer the following questions: How can operations be standardized across machines? How can other devices such as smartphones and tablets be integrated into a coherent overall concept?

Interaction and design should always follow the same principles within the framework of a uniform design system, regardless of who interacts where and with which device. Design standardization works outward by improving user experience. For example, users can orient themselves more quickly and transfer their operating and experience knowledge from one machine to another. Standardization enables a uniform look and feel of your brand across complete product families and different devices. A consistent design makes your brand visible, distinctive and increases your recognizability.

Another advantage of standardization: It also has an "inward" effect beyond the points mentioned above. Software developers can reuse controls, layout and interaction patterns, saving time and resources.

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The technology makes it tangible.

The trend toward cross-machine and cross-device ecosystems described above does not stop at technical aspects such as input and output channels. The classic touch display will certainly not be replaced in the future but will be supplemented by additional interactive options, for example using RFID. The reality of many machine and plant manufacturers today: On the one hand, they need an HMI with comprehensive design options and versatile functionality, but the technology they use is often limited or simply outdated. Today's device diversity from desktop to tablets and smartphones requires consideration of different device sizes as well as a seamless transition between different devices.

Web technologies in particular have a certain potential. They enable responsiveness in addition to platform independence. With their client-server structure, web HMIs can be easily used in the browser on different devices – whether smartphone, tablet, industrial PC or control station. In addition, web technology opens up a human-centered design scope in terms of usability and design. This allows complex and customizable web HMIs to be developed that are easily extensible. Web is ONE possible and, in many ways, attractive technology for a modern HMI. But individual solutions with contemporary forms of interaction can also be found with other technologies – the specific context of use and the associated requirements should ultimately serve as the basis for decision-making.

What modern HMIs need, however, regardless of their underlying technology, is a certain degree of dynamism. HMIs of the future will be displayable anywhere and at any time in real time, composed ad-hoc for the respective context and user, and adapt fully automatically to different screen sizes and orientations. In the upcoming years, they will gradually integrate new functions and services, possibly even when the relevant machine or system has already been delivered (buzzword “over-the-air software updates”). They become vivid products, quickly reacting to changes in the market or quickly seizing and implementing arising opportunities. To keep pace with digital change, modern HMIs must be agile and continuously developed, modified and optimized.


Hello, future! The future of HMIs is more complex and goes beyond just a refresh with a new look. It lies in the planned interaction of user experience, brand communication and technology. How can your HMI be modernized? With our HMI review, we will find out how to do this and identify optimization approaches on the way to your future-proof HMI. Are you ready?

The authors

Stephanie Häusler-Weiß

As a Senior User Experience Designer at UID, Stephanie has extensive experience in all phases of human-centered development – from user experience consulting to final design. She works with clients to develop high-level user interface designs for products and services.

Kathrin Seigel

Whether social media, PR concept, journalist inquiry or trade fair company – Kathrin designs UID's communication with the Corporate Communications team. As a qualified pedagogue, communications scientist and northern personality in the team, her motto is "We can do everything. Even speaking High German!"