UX in an industrial context

Anastasia Szmulik is the User Experience Lead at Atlas Copco. Her expertise centres on critical systems design within the automotive assembly sector. She has put together and led the UX design team within an award winning inhouse multi-disciplinary team. We were curious to hear more about this and had the opportunity to talk to her.In this interview we discuss user experience design and how critical systems benefit from early attention to the experience of end users.

What are your core UX design values or motivations?

My task at Atlas Copco has been to represent the user, not only because it’s our job as user experience designers, but because we care about the people we work with. In a business-to-business company like ours, we focus a lot on efficiency, but we need to translate what our various customers mean by that. What I realized during my journey here, is that easy-to-use means absolutely different things for different people, even within this organization. Terms like efficiency, ease-of-use, and user-friendliness, need to be defined so we can create and develop good software.

This means I need to understand what is easy-to-use for Volkswagen in Germany, or for Ford in the US. That’s why it was so important for us to travel the world and talk to users, in the end, this research allowed us to translate what they mean by efficient into an actual solution that addresses their needs or understanding.

At what point in projects at Atlas Copco are UX designers most invaluable or most utilized?

We’re working hard to put more focus on UX toward the beginning of our projects. Although my main focus has been to push for design earlier in projects, we always have a design phase which allows us to iterate before products ship.

Though sometimes, because our hardware products have a lifetime warranty, the installed software eventually reaches an endpoint, at which point we have the opportunity to make updates or overhaul the software to help users overcome various hardware shortcomings.

When designing for user experience, what are the highest priorities for products like yours that are part of critical systems found in factories?

There are a lot of different priorities because we have a multidisciplinary team, and we focus a lot on addressing cognitive load. Because, I don’t know if you can imagine a factory, but when you’re surrounded by so much machinery, and everything is blinking and moving, and it’s very loud, we have to remember that our equipment is only part of the workers context.

So if we consider someone working at a station tightening joints with our equipment, we have to find what we can do to support them. For example, historically our products provided a lot of feedback, because someone thought “why not blink this lamp?” or “why don’t we show that?”, and our research showed that people don’t have time to look at all those things. I have asked users, “What do you think these blinking lights mean?”, and most of the time people didn’t know, because they didn’t have the time, didn’t care, or it wasn’t important for their process.

So a lot about UX for critical systems is understanding, “what is the minimal information a person needs to do their job right?” This requires understanding the context of use, that this critical system is part of their user universe, and that their safety is top priority. We also work a lot with learnability, so if someone needs to use some of our equipment just once every couple weeks, they don’t forget how to use it.

What have your collaborations with Avalon been like?

We have an in-house team, but when we have been offered consultants from other companies they have tried selling projects, in-and-out, which doesn’t suit my needs. My need has always been to find good people with a strong technical background, because they understand the technology, that it’s crazy complex, and Avalon has provided people with the right background competency, and the right project experience. I need someone that fits in with my team and can start producing, maybe not day 1, but day 2, so that has been my collaboration experience with Avalon. I actually started out as a subcontractor for Avalon myself!

About the author:

Vincent Lewandowski, UX designer at Avalon Innovation


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