In our Tech Talks series, we speak with the industry professionals here at HARMAN about important technology trends and issues. In today’s Tech Talk, we actually have the insight of two of our great innovators in the user interface field. First, we have Michael Saadeh, Product Manager, User Interfaces for HARMAN Professional Solutions. Michael has his BSEE from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as an MBA in Product and Strategy Management from the University of Oxford. Michael worked in design engineering and product strategy before joining AMX in 2014. He now oversees the development of intuitive user interface products such as Modero touch panels and HydraPort connectivity for the Corporate, Education and Government (CEG) verticals.
We also have with us Chris Reed, Interaction Design Manager for HARMAN Professional Solutions. Chris attended the Art Institute of Dallas before joining AMX as a software engineer in 2001 developing user interfaces and performing user testing. Chris is in charge of user experience design for HARMAN software in the CEG markets.
I reached out to Michael and Chris to talk about the importance of user experience in the world of enterprise AV, which we’ll address in two parts. This week, we looked at the concept of usability. Next time, we’ll turn our attention to interface consistency.
[SKD]: User experience as a concept is not necessarily new to the AV industry, but it seems to have an increased importance now that we’re part of IT and the rest of corporate technology world. The level of expectation for the user interface and the quality of the overall user experience is higher than perhaps it used to be, or at least this seems to have increased in focus. Do you find that to be true? How has that changed within the AV industry?
[CR]: I definitely see that it is a priority and focus these days in the AV world. I’m seeing that a lot more products are customer-driven and the user experience has to really deliver in these cases, but really that’s everywhere. It’s something that, I think, all industries are doing, not even just those that are necessarily “tech” in nature. You want the best experience for your customer, and people are increasingly seeing the value in doing that and focus on it more and more. Along the way of doing that, we have more companies getting actual customer and user input early on in the process rather than just putting something out there and hoping you’ve got it right. I see that just about everywhere, but certainly AV now being part of the bigger IT world really helps drive that as well.
[MS]: Yes, exactly. Design is all about understanding the user and meeting their needs. User expectations have skyrocketed over the past decade. Mobile devices are an obvious example of this, and the expectations we have for intuitive experiences have really elevated. We expect things to happen a lot faster now. Whether that’s the time it takes to start a meeting or the time it takes for a new user to take control of a room, the expectations for that are so much higher now that absolutely we have to deliver on that in a much better way.
Another thing that’s really driven that is there are even more meetings now than there were before. There are a lot more frequent smaller meetings than we have ever had, and often times in an on-demand fashion, meaning there’s not really a chance to go in and spend a few minutes to get the meeting setup. Now our users expect to get that meeting set up in seconds not minutes. The expectations have skyrocketed, so part of what we’re focused on is continually evolving our product line and toolset to continually meet and exceed those needs.
[SKD]: How does that impact both with product design—from the perspective of the hardware products you provide—as well as software, whether that’s coming from a manufacturer with a software like AMX Rapid Project Maker or from an integrator who is having to put together the system with automation?
[MS]: There’s a lot to that. We’re not only trying to address the user needs, but we’re also trying to address a variety of enterprise requirements as well. The core idea here is balancing security and usability requirements, which can be a bit competitive.
[CR]: Going back to what Michael was saying about expectations—10 years ago, having a touch screen in a conference room was kind of a novel concept. You didn’t see touch screens all over the place. Now, you’re immersed with them everywhere. Everyone is used to interacting with a touch device, and they have certain expectations now, not only about speed but also about ease of use.
If something feels intuitive, you feel confident you know what is going to happen when you press a button, and even if you don’t feel confident for some reason, you certainly don’t feel intimidated by it, because it is technology that people live with all day every day. Before, years back, the only thing people interacted with using touch might be the panel in the conference room, so there was some inherent anxiety when making a selection on screen.” Now, you’re doing it every day with thousands of apps, so there’s all of these experiences out there that the AV system is measured against now that just didn’t exist before.
[MS]: Further to Chris’s point, the typical user is used to smartphone apps that are designed so well that a user manual is irrelevant. We’re no longer focused on reading through documentation to see how something works. We expect to have some sort of new experience in front of us and just start using it
[SKD]: Now we’re an AV company, and on the enterprise side we’re used to dealing with AV integrators. So, when you say “usability” we usually think about touch panels, but how does usability go beyond just software for touch panels to impacting the overall user experience? How important is ease of use for hardware keypads or management software, and how does it impact the larger AVL system beyond touch interfaces?
[MS]: The user experience is a higher-level concept that’s concerned with the entire end to end user interaction, including the software UI but also the hardware in the space.
Say for example when I walk into a space, there’s an occupancy sensor that knows that I’ve walked in. We can automate a number of different things based upon that information. We can go ahead and turn on the display, wake the touch panel, adjust the lights to a certain mode, etc. It’s the integration of the UI and the software with the hardware in the space. You have to look at the entire experience, and that’s one of the key areas that we excel in. With our wide solution offering, we’re able to deliver on every bit of that.
[CR]: Kyle, you mentioned management software like AMX Resource Management Suite, and I think that’s an end-to-end experience too. Now you have a whole experience going from someone installing our devices in a room, getting them online with RMS so it’s reporting statistics back, all the way to creating automated reports that go to C-level executives. If you get that right and you get that seamless, it’s giving you facts and data that you really need. You don’t have to go mining for it anymore because you’ve set it up and it just does it—that’s really powerful. It’s a great experience because it goes through a chain of people in your organization, and if you do it well, you don’t even notice it. That’s really what user experience is about. It’s providing a great seamless experience that users really don’t have to think about. If they’re thinking about the interface or the experience, you’ve probably done something wrong.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Michael and Chris for taking time to speak with us today. Be sure to stay tuned to the HARMAN Professional Solutions Insights Blog for part two of our conversation with Michael and Chris.
Do you have any tips for ensuring a consistent user experience with professional AV? Share them in the comments.