How 100 Years of Auto UX Benefits Marine Display GUI Design

The automotive industry has existed for more than 100 years, evolving from a self-propelled horseless carriage to a luxury product heavily integrated with technology to become faster, easier to use and safer than ever before.

The marine industry is undergoing similar changes, in which graphic user interfaces (GUI) have evolved from simple analog gauges to complex digital systems that integrate data from multiple sources and perform complex calculations to provide real-time information to the user.

However, marine users are only sometimes aware of these changes and how they affect their experience on the water. They still expect simple operations where they can easily read and interpret information. Marine display developers can learn much by understanding the history of automotive user experience (UX) design when designing displays for boats. There is room for innovation in this market, and there are many opportunities for companies to take advantage of automotive UX expertise to create cutting-edge products that customers will love.

Key Takeaways from Automotive UX

Why reinvent the wheel? Here are some of the key lessons learned from 100 years of automotive UX design:

User-Centric Design

Automotive manufacturers have been designing cars around drivers’ needs for decades, focusing on functionality and ease of use. As time went on and technology became more advanced, auto manufacturers began investing in user-centric design practices that concentrated on creating an intuitive experience for their customers.

For the marine industry, designers can build user-focused products by investing time in researching how boaters interact with their boats on the water—learning their needs, preferences and frustrations through user feedback—to guide design and functionality. By understanding these factors, they can create products that align with customer needs and expectations to make the UX as simple and easy to use as possible.

Safety Prioritization

Designers must always consider how their products can impact users’ safety. When designing new features or redesigning existing ones, careful consideration of how they fit into a captain’s environment before implementation. Displays should provide easy-to-read relevant information and feedback through audio cues or visual indicators without being a distraction. This way, users can quickly comprehend their vessel’s system status and make any needed adjustments.

User-Friendly GUI With Accessibility in Mind

Keep it simple—because complexity is the enemy of usability. The best GUIs are simple, easy to use and accessible to all users. They should be designed with the user in mind, making them intuitive and eliminating confusion by streamlining systems and separating controls. Additionally, using color-coded visual cues or icons instead of text labels can reduce clutter and make the information they present quickly identifiable so the user can react accordingly.

Technology Integration

One thing we can learn from automotive UX is how to integrate technology. In the past, cars had large, inflexible displays that did not integrate well with other systems on the vehicle. Today, car manufacturers are incorporating infotainment systems into their vehicles to control all functions from one interface for a seamless UX. It allows them to use their favorite apps in their cars without switching between devices or systems.

Owing to the COVID pandemic, the last few years have shown a 40% surge in U.S. boat sales. Additionally, boat ownership is skewing younger, with 31% of boat owners being millennials. Millennials have grown accustomed to and expect integrated technologies. Marine display developers should consider integrating their displays with other onboard systems, such as navigation, depth finders, safety equipment and even audio streaming apps so that users can learn and monitor fewer separate interfaces while operating.

When it comes to integrating advanced telematics systems, there are many capabilities to benefit marine users by embracing the power of connectivity. For example, remote diagnostics can enable users to diagnose issues without physically returning to the boat. Over-the-air updates keep vessels current with the latest technology, software and maps, while real-time data sharing enables users to collect and share information about their boats.

Additionally, voice commands, gesture recognition and natural language processing features can simplify and enhance the interaction between users and vehicles/equipment by reducing manual input requirements.

Responsive Display Performance

The UI should be snappy, avoid lag between input and response and provide clear and reliable feedback to the user so they know that their action was registered. This empowers the user to feel more in control of the interface and the boat and makes the entire UX more enjoyable. Alternatively, with less integrated UIs, users can experience an apparent disconnect between the vessel’s hardware and software, making for a poor UX between disjointed systems.

User Environment Consideration

One of the first things a designer will consider is context—where the product will be used, who will use it and how it will be used. Not to overstate the obvious, but this is especially important when designing systems like marine displays with multiple components that must work together seamlessly in use cases exposed to outdoor environmental conditions. The hardware and UI should be designed to withstand exposure to direct sunlight, water, wind, dust, sand and harsh conditions. Any displays should be readable in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight.

Touch screen displays warrant special consideration for their intended use. Resistive and capacitive touchscreens have different strengths and require several considerations in the marine environment. For example, will users wear gloves when using the screen? What are the optimal brightness and contrast for the screen? Durability of the screen, possible exposure to the elements and screen cost are also factors for designers to bear in mind when specifying and developing their displays.

Altia’s DeepScreen code generator allows designers to quickly generate code for GUI models and run on production-ready hardware in real-world situations, not only speeding up development but enabling designers to test and tweak their UX on hardware in the wild before they go to production.

User Feedback Loops

Customers are essential. Not only do they bring in revenue through purchasing your products, but they offer extensive insight into your product and how it works in the real world. Their feedback is essential when designing a GUI—learning what they need, what features and functionality work, what could be improved plus any use cases and insights not considered during design and pre-production. Collecting user feedback can guide UI design to mitigate known usability issues and ensure GUIs are user-friendly before releasing them to market.

Cross-Functional Collaboration

In addition to working with users directly, taking advantage of cross-functional collaboration between departments creates a holistic approach to development to produce better products faster. Open communication across disciplines—designers, software engineers, systems engineers, hardware engineers, human factors experts and marketing—provides unique insights, including those from Subject Matter Experts who can give valuable viewpoints on aspects of production that might be overlooked in more rigid production approaches.

Altia’s CloudWare™ platform allows collaboration across production groups to remotely evaluate, test and analyze hardware-software stacks with real-time results.

Design Hardware with Flexibility in Mind

The automobile industry’s widespread hardware supply chain shortage can be similarly felt in the marine industry. Today there is a shift in how OEMs are designing their GUI programs due to new hardware releases or lack of availability of hardware previously used in marine products. These OEMs are leveraging GUI design tools that enable their designers and developers to scale their GUI models to different hardware and even different projects. Making the GUI applicable to various displays allows production to use a variety of hardware depending on availability and cost while also future-proofing the UI and scalability across multiple projects, display screen sizes and products.

Companies like Medallion Instrumentation Systems are using Altia’s industry-leading tools to design, develop and deploy embedded GUIs for marine applications—scaling their designs to suit a variety of projects and use cases.

Why Choosing the Right Industry-Leading Design Tools and Tech Matters

Ultimately, the principles of good UX design are universal. Good design is good design—whether it’s for a dashboard or a touchscreen display. As the marine user base continues to grow and diversify, designers should take a moment to consider how they can improve their products and make them more practical, safer and easier to use for everyone. To keep ahead of the curve, they must explore technologies and resources that can enhance the user experience of their products and allow them to create a more comprehensive product offering.

With industry-leading GUI development tools and engineering services, Altia ensures that designers and developers have what they need to get a custom, high-performance GUI to market.

Visit altia.com/get-started and begin to put your best interface forward.

Altia: The Complete HMI Platform for Automotive Cockpit Displays

As the automotive industry moves closer and closer to fully autonomous, even lower end vehicles are evolving into rolling computers—with ever-increasing interconnectivity and complexity in the vehicle cockpit. Car buyers now expect to be connected to the outside world—and OEMs are responding to their requirements. It is estimated that by 2030, 95% of all new vehicles will incorporate intermediate or advanced infotainment, telematics and V2X capabilities to communicate between vehicles, users and infrastructure.

With these dramatic shifts in technologies from more mechanical and analog controls to those that are partially or fully digital, automotive OEMs are challenged with anticipating how customers interact with their vehicles, namely through the human-machine interface (HMI).

The HMI acts as a hub of the wheel for the vehicle cockpit’s connected user experience, integrating the spokes that provide information to the driver while sending commands to the various systems both inside and outside the car. The considerable shift toward electrification and autonomous vehicles has resulted in new regulatory requirements. These requirements have compelled OEMs and suppliers to invest more R&D into user interface hardware and software lifecycles and integration, whether their digital cockpits include a multitude of dedicated displays in a single vehicle to just a single in-dash touchscreen.

But the simplicity of a well-architected UI masks great complexity. Cockpit software design includes many considerations, such as how to integrate multiple compute domains and vehicle applications across varying operating systems. Customers have grown accustomed to smartphones being at their side—so how can OEMs keep them connected to their communication and entertainment while adhering to regulations for driver safety and attention? How can OEMs maintain brand continuity between native HMI screens, multiple connectivity solutions and those of the passengers’ personal devices? This is a complex challenge encompassing a vast number of varying requirements, especially given the increase in autonomy. OEMs can embrace these challenges by leveraging a production-proven platform to bring this all together efficiently.

Meeting OEM Challenges with Proven Innovation

Altia delivers a single, comprehensive platform to meet OEM’s cockpit software challenges and the needs and expectations of their customers. They provide a complete end-to-end cockpit software solution for OEMs by combining the best design tools, advanced technology, customization capabilities and expertise within one unified platform.

Altia has helped some of the largest OEMs create custom HMIs in various vehicles as well as develop and deploy their entire software stack—from sedans, SUVs, semis and motorcycles to electric construction-agriculture equipment and everything in between. The integration of Altia’s powerful features and hardware flexibility in over 100 million production vehicles on the road have been shaping the industry. Altia’s software solution is at the heart of over 375 vehicle dashboards for the upcoming generation.

A Comprehensive Collection of Tools and Expert Service

Altia’s cockpit software platform sets the standard for designing, developing and deploying innovative, first-class automotive user experience. The platform enables display design and deployment on any screen within a car, including instrument clusters, HUDs, infotainment displays, passenger displays and rear passenger entertainment systems. No matter how grand and challenging your vision is, Altia can enable a seamless look and feel in your vehicle cockpits to provide an immersive experience that is representative of the brands across your fleet of vehicles. By reusing the core of your work, Altia enables you to keep design cost-efficient while enabling endless opportunities to differentiate. Providing the tools and expert support you need to bring your UI from concept to production quickly and efficiently, Altia’s HMI development platform saves time and reduces production costs.

Altia Advantages for Automotive

  • Hypervisor operations — HMI cockpit operates on both sides of your hypervisor
  • Code generation — Quick conversion of HMI prototypes and graphics to deployable graphics code across a wide range of hardware
  • Integration and display management — Guidance on how to manage and integrate cockpit real estate to create cohesive and intuitive signature UIs for customers while maintaining brand identity
  • Head-up display expertise — Best-in-class HUDs integration to show system information and advanced driver-assist system (ADAS) warnings to keep drivers’ eyes on the road
  • Automated testing solutions — Reduction in time-to-market HMI testing costs, minimizes human error

Integrations

Altia’s cockpit HMI platform can seamlessly integrate the following services and applications into your displays:

  • Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
  • Third-party mapping programs
  • ADAS
  • Media players
  • Telematics units
  • Automotive infrastructure integrations via Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X)

Altia Software Tools and Services Support Every Step of Your HMI Process

With the increasing complexity in the automotive world and increasing demand for OEMs to pull user experience and data ownership in-house, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with an approach to managing it all. Altia is here to bring all the pieces together and help OEMs to realize their automotive user experience goals. Altia guides OEMs through designing, developing and deploying their custom automotive cockpits.

Altia’s complete automotive software platform supports every step of the development process, from concept design through delivery. Altia automotive solutions enable OEMs to meet their digital cockpit goals today and in the future. Altia understands these system complexities and has the proven tools to help you with your automotive software challenges.

Ready to start your automotive cockpit development journey? Altia delivers the expertise, software and services to guide you throughout the process to meet your needs and realize your goals. We would love to hear about your project and how we can help you get it on the road.

Visit www.altia.com/get-started.

9 Ways Your GUI Software Might Be Letting You Down

Open-source software is attractive because there is no or low financial barrier to entry. Unfortunately, it leaves the door open to other costs. Developing and maintaining the GUI is 50% more expensive when you hand-code it. Then you have to pay for a commercial license if you don’t want to make your code open source. What started as a cost-saving measure sets you up for a long and expensive development cycle.

Alternatively, your GUI application development environment can accelerate design and delivery, even allowing you to test your design on real hardware as you build. Every job is easier with the right development tool. While you might not see heavy specialization from an open-source tool, some solutions and resources are made specifically with embedded GUI projects in mind.

Choose an Embedded GUI Tool That Helps, Not Hurts

Creating a great product isn’t easy, which is why some parts of the process must be simple. Choosing the right technology can prevent a lot of headaches for your embedded GUI team. These nine considerations will help you avoid common pitfalls and stay on the road to a successful release.

1 – Smaller Memory Footprint

Until money is no object, cost will always be a factor in the product development process. When manufacturers use the least expensive hardware, the product’s retail price will be more attractive to consumers. Every opportunity to reduce RAM and Flash requirements by 50% will show up in the bottom line, and vice versa.

For example, the budget for a smart thermostat cannot accommodate a $100 processor. The cost savings can also become dramatic as displays grow in size or complexity. Thoughtful architecture yields efficient code, keeping the hardware budget down. The ability to fit within a small memory footprint is especially vital for the code generated by low-code and no-code solutions.

2 – Low-Code or No-Code GUI Design

A small army of GUI developers can find ways to minimize the memory footprint, but such labor isn’t especially cost-effective. Low-code and no-code GUI design technology reduces engineering costs and the need for handoffs

If you’re a designer, draw a circle and drop it where you want it. No one has to think about the formula of a circle or how each pixel should display. When designers can use the software themselves, there’s less back-and-forth with engineers before it goes into manufacturing.

3 – Intuitive Usability

Altia customers report that using the right GUI design stack helps get teams up and running several times faster than other GUI application development environments. Any of the following might get you to market with less support and less wasted time:

  • Integrations such as MathWorks Simulink
  • Generalized API for a low learning curve
  • Easy porting of the GUI onto hardware

It’s one thing to sit down and design without code. It’s another to get all the way to launch.

4 – Turnkey Support of Low- to High-Capability Hardware

Scalable and portable production programs make iterative growth easier to manage. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the same GUI design should be deployable repeatedly. One multinational oven manufacturer has been able to roll out new features one after another on top of the existing code base.

5 – Optimized Use of 3D Graphics

Working with 3D graphics can become a cost center instead of an added value if your GUI development environment isn’t up to the task. Rendering realistic representations in medical devices or similar products is a lofty target. It might be worth considering all of the following:

  • Workflow to import 3D graphics
  • Native 3D content capabilities
  • Control over aesthetic quality

3D graphics are only impressive and useful when they’re done correctly.

6 – 100% Pure Native Code: No Black Boxes, No Minimum Footprint

Solutions that require a “black box” runtime engine enforce a minimum footprint that isn’t always favorable. Such solutions must be prepared for every capability the graphic library allows, regardless of whether the design needs it.

You can’t take the black box apart and might need more expensive hardware to fit everything. It doesn’t make sense to pay for 3D capabilities if you’re building a simple thermostat interface with a knob and a number.

Black box solutions are especially risky in applications like medical device manufacturing and anything that will go in a heavy machine. If you need certification or submit to an inspection, you’ll unlikely get access to the black box. This means getting another company involved and all the delays that come with that.

7 – Cloud-Based Collaboration

Can your global team collaborate on a single target? The cloud wasn’t invented for GUI designers to work together from their homes on the exact same hardware-software stack—but smart companies are working with innovative solutions that make that happen. For example, consider the off-highway EV company testing its design on real, cloud-based hardware. It’s one more way to keep the project on schedule with remote team members or during a chip shortage.

8 – Better Product Support

It’s one thing to have a large user community and another to offer live support. What kinds of resources are available for monitoring and triaging? Connecting with a key development engineer will almost always be faster than customer service from a lower-tier engineer.

9 – End-to-End Engineering Services

When your team needs experience or hours to keep up, all kinds of professional engineering services are available. Some GUI design environments have connections with third-party partners or known consultants but no capacity to complete the project themselves. Compare that to a major surgical device maker that saves time and resources with turnkey product delivery.

Faster Time to Market

The nine top considerations for GUI development environments all serve a common goal: getting a product to market more efficiently. Simple workflows shorten the path to profit, conserve resources, and ultimately provide a superior user experience. If you want to learn more, our team is happy to show you how Altia stacks up in any or all of these categories.

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