Innovate with impact: the strength of an HMI sprint week

Discover early if you’re heading in the right direction – Frank van der Velden and Roland van Zeeland van Fuji Seal open up about their UX sprint week experience at sixfoot-four in a remarkable interview.

Read in this interview how this method transformed the HMI of their new machine and why early, goal-oriented progress was key to their success.

We held a sprint week for your HMI UX design. Tell me, how did it start, what were you dealing with, what doubts did you have beforehand?

Frank: “We wanted to make the right move in terms of usability for the HMI of our new machine type. To make it so that an operator doesn’t need any training to be able to operate the machine.

Of course, there were some ideas, but we know we first and foremost are technicians. We decided to ask someone else who is very good at the interface between machine and human. We’re not good at that, but others are.”

Ronald: “We were struggling with the fact that we don’t have any real interaction designers or usability experts.

We do have a lot of good software people who can program perfectly fine. However, the link to how does the human brain work and what people understand well and what they want or what don’t want: that is exactly what we have been very much looking for.

We were curious: will we get the most out of such a week? And how can an external party properly understand what we need, what our customers need?”

What convinced you to go with sixfoot-four?

Ronald: “Especially the fast results. And not a quick overall result, but a first step that checks whether you are going in the right direction.”

How was your experience with the sprint week in the end?

Frank: “I thought it was a very good method to create something tangible in 5 days. The day-to-day structure helped us tremendously. We don’t have people internally who can facilitate a sprint week or a similar methodology.

That made it an efficient week with you as a facilitator. Otherwise we would have been still debating the first day on day three. Instead things out of scope were just parked, you asked through and stopped stalled discussions.

If you do that with internal people, it becomes more difficult. This way you can manage the group much more efficiently.”

Ronald: “I’ve done quite a bit of reading about how a sprint week works beforehand.

I thought in the beginning: sure, it sounds very nice. But I still have to see if it can be done with our people as well. We never work in such a way. It wasn’t really a concern, but I was very curious.

I have to say that it worked out very well. That you can put quite different people together with different backgrounds. You have to keep steering tightly of course, and you did that very well.

You focus on framing a specific part each day, work on it together and come out of it with great results in the end.

I noticed that during our idea generation, for example. The ideas were quite diverse. I think if we had approached it in a different way, we wouldn’t have come out of it so quickly.

In the end, we chose one idea and tested it. Everybody agreed: yes this really works, it’s really good.

I think it becomes easier to accept other peoples‘ ideas that way.”

Can you tell us something about the results of the sprint week? What did you get out of it?

Frank: “I found the results very interesting. At some point, a choice had to be made from the ideas that everyone had made. I was surprised by the choices that were made in the end and how things turned out on the last day. I didn’t expect that.

We went with a fairly minimalist screen. ‘Less is more’, it’s as simple as that. I thought we were going to do more of a classic set-up. Like the HMI as we know it today, but a little better thought through, a little simpler. That was my idea in the beginning.

In the end, we came up with something completely different. That makes the sprint week quite unique for me.

Ronald: “For me, it’s the concept especially. That you can actually omit a lot of things that we would normally include in an HMI. The operator can still get ahead with that machine. That’s an important result, I think.”

Frank: “We got what we hoped for: that we can guide an operator better during their work.

Our test subject got it done without saying anything and walked through our test scenario flawlessly. That’s what makes it unique. She looked at what she had to do, opened the door, and she went through all the steps.

We nailed the basic version of the user interface in just 5 days. I find that quite impressive.

What happened after the sprint week?

Frank: “It was a hectic few weeks for us at the time. Your report of the sprint week helped us get the story right internally. As a result, we were able to make the decision of how to continue after only two weeks.

In your report, you used the example of the HMI as a house. All objects and colors were scattered throughout the house. That is the current situation.

We don’t even know which item is for which operator yet. What we now want to achieve is a clean house where everything is neatly ready for the user.

This example helped us to convey our goal within management and with all others.”

Ronald: “What I often notice is that if you choose a certain idea and start working it out, there are always people who keep going on about it: “Why didn’t you do this? Why don’t you have that?”

With a foundation like the sprint week, you can actually prove: Look, we have looked at all those options, done them all and we have chosen this, we have thought of that.”

Who would you recommend a sprint week to?

Ronald: “Companies that are looking to solve a somewhat larger question: How do you approach something in a different way?

For example, what would be the next step in the design of a machine? Something that has to do with user behavior. Or when you want to set up a new service.”

Frank: “Companies that build machines and beyond are often very driven by engineering. They’re all techies.

A technician or engineer is not a designer. They often know what they want, but they are and remain people who draw something, with all the technical skills they have in it.

To look at something from the user side or from the user interface side, you have to approach it completely differently.

Recently I was at the Interpack in Germany. If you look at HMIs there, they all look the same. On the bottom you’ll find the time and the recipe, and at the top you can see the date and general items. In the middle is a large machine projected with a lot of information all around.

That attracts an engineer, who likes something like that. It looks very slick. But for an operator, it’s just a tragedy.

There are a lot of companies that could use this process. At the end of the day, it applies to all of them: an operator has to do it and not an engineer from the office.”

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