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Jan 26, 2016

Updated standards for touch screen designs

The industry standard for the "Development of usable user interfaces for technical plants" by the Association of German Engineers (VDI) and the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE) was published in an updated version at the end of 2015. Together with their partners, UID revised Part 3 of the standard. This section gives product developers guidelines and recommendations on how to choose the appropriate touch technology and to design user-friendly user interfaces for industrial purposes. The standard is available from Beuth publishers in German and English.

All three parts of VDI/VDE standard 3850 describe the user-centered design of user interfaces for industrial purposes. Their initial versions date back to the turn of the millennium but with the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, they now required considerable modifications. The volume of the new version illustrates the scope of this technical advancement: Comprising 96 pages, the updated Part 3 is almost five times as large as its predecessor.

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Special requirements

Part 3 of VDI/VDE standard 3850 comprises guidelines and recommendations for choosing the right touch technology and for designing dialog boxes that are suitable for the use of touch technology. This makes the standard an important working basis for product developers in the machine and plant manufacturing industry. "Touch operation is not equivalent to intuitive operation – even if this is often suggested," explains Thom Scheiner, Senior Usability Engineer with UID. "The user interface has to be perfectly adapted to the users' requirements and to the usage environment, and operational concept and hardware have to chime together. Only then can touch screen operation live up to its promise." Thom Scheiner was Head of the work group that updated Part 3 and, in this role, he was able to draw on his extensive expertise from various industry projects.

The perfect technology

In the new edition of Part 3, the authors compare the seven most common touch technologies in use today – from resistive to capacitive and on-cell technologies –, highlighting various aspects that are decisive for the decision for or against a certain technology: Do the users wear gloves? Are multi-touch gestures to be used? How many touch events have to be processed at the same time? Does the touch screen have to be scratch-resistant? Are there certain operating temperatures at which the touch screen still has to be operational? In order to facilitate the decision-making process, the updated standard provides a checklist. It can be used to summarize any safety- and user-relevant requirements and to require panel suppliers to submit comparable offers.

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Minimum sizes

Part 3 of VDI/VDE standard 3850 defines new minimum button sizes that are suitable for the technologies currently in use. For these definitions, the authors discussed and analyzed several internationally recognized sources. The minimum size of the controls is decisive for the number of interactive elements that can be displayed on a screen at the same time.

Mobile operation

After updating Parts 1 to 3, the team of authors is currently drawing up a new Part 4. The focus of this extension of the standard is the operation of technical plants via mobile devices.