Welcome back to another Tech Talk, the blog series where we speak with industry professionals about important technology trends and issues. In today’s Tech Talk, we’re speaking again with two of our user experience experts here at HARMAN Professional Solutions: Michael Saadeh, Product Manager, User Interfaces and Chris Reed, Interaction Design Manager.
Last time we heard from Michael and Chris, we were speaking on the subject of user experience in the world of enterprise AV, looking specifically at the concept of usability. Today, we’re going to turn our attention to another factor that is key to a great user experience: interface consistency.
[SKD]: To what level do you think consistency of interface affects customer experience, even across disparate devices? I use an Android phone, and part of the reason why everything is usable to me is that everything follows the standard Android approach. If something doesn’t follow it, it doesn’t make sense. With an iOS device, it’s the same thing. Everything makes sense because it all falls within the standard Apple guidelines for how an interface should work. For the corporate world, especially within professional AV, we don’t really have those sort of standards. So, barring a forced standard, how important is consistency within the corporate technology space, and specifically within the professional AV space?
[CR]: Well, it’s huge, and it’s something I’ve really focused on over the past few years, because when you have people even within one building developing software, but siloed across different products, the usability is often not the same. When you’re talking a corporate environment, where different conference rooms are installed at different times, and different buildings and campuses around the world all use different technology, the problem can be much worse.
Even things like having consistent branding and colors, using the same nomenclature and verbiage, etc., can make it feel much more like a single experience. All of those elements add up over time. Even if it’s a new experience (a new room or a new piece of software), you know where to go to do a particular action, to set something up or configure something. Even if they don’t perform similar functions, if the look and feel are the same, it goes a long way to tie things together so it feels like it’s part of one thought or experience. It feels familiar, even if it’s my first time using it.
[MS]: I think it’s really key that we have good consistency throughout, because any time there is a new interface or a different experience room to room, that’s just additional friction to getting that meeting started, getting content on the screen and getting things done. So, we really need to make sure we’re consistent across the board, not only for the end user’s sake, but also for the supportability as well. We need to make sure the AV experience is standardized across all of our rooms and buildings, so we’re not impacting IT with all of these different options and different nuances between rooms. We don’t want the IT help desk to be getting all sorts of support requests just because there happens to be differences between the rooms. So we need consistency across the different rooms as well.
Consistency is huge, both for aesthetics but also for performance. We look at things historically, where we only put technology in the big rooms. The small and medium rooms were kind of barren, and they were more conversational spaces. Now, we see that we aren’t building as many of those large spaces. We’re building more of those small and medium spaces, but we’re outfitting all of them with technology across the board (or at least should be), because we want to be sure we have an excellent user experience and good productivity everywhere. We want good audio for our audio calls, so we add acoustic echo cancellation. We want good audio in the room, so we add good room speakers so we’re not all huddled around the laptop.
[SKD]: What are some specific examples of what this consistency actually looks like in a space such as a corporate environment?
[CR]: A good example of that would be a facility where there are touch panels outside all the rooms with calendars on them. Some rooms may be automated and have monitoring using something like AMX Resource Management Suite. In these rooms, the scheduling panels would probably use AMX Rapid Project Maker. In other rooms in the facility, they might not have automation in the room, and the scheduling panels outside these rooms would use AMX RoomBook. In that case, you’ll want the interface on the panels in the automated rooms to match the RoomBook interface. That way you have the same interface on two different things, and it feels the same. Even though the underlying technology is different, to the user that should be transparent. They should just know how to walk up and operate it.
[MS]: Another good example of that are our AMX Massio Keypads and Massio ControlPads. In a smaller space, they may have a Massio ControlPad, which is a control processor and keypad in a single device. It’s a great, cost-effective solution, and for a smaller space, that might be all you have. In a larger space, you may have a separate central controller with video switching and more, but you might also want to use a Massio Keypad by the door so we don’t have to retrain users and so there’s a consistent experience between the different types of rooms. By having a full product spectrum, we’re able to deliver on that.
[CR]: That’s really part of the reason why RPM has taken off so well. It gives enterprises an interface that looks and feels the same no matter what size the touch panel is. Someone can use a huddle space or small conference room on one side of campus where there is a small seven-inch touch panel, and then go to a large conference with a 20 inch panel on the other side of the campus or across the world, and it feels the same. The experience is the same. It looks the same. The icons, the button placement, everything is identical and so it’s so consistent that you just feel at home wherever you are. I think that goes a long way to efficiency and a great experience.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Michael and Chris for taking time to speak with us again. While I had them, I thought I’d ask them a bit about what they do when they aren’t at HARMAN. Outside of work, Michael enjoys long distance road cycling through the many trails in Dallas, eating 4,000 calories a day, and watching his hometown American football team—the Dallas Cowboys. In Chris’s down time, he enjoys cooking, playing with technology, playing guitar, watching sports (especially American football), listening to music and in general “probably watching way too much TV.” He also enjoys spending time with friends and dining out.
Do you have any tips for ensuring a consistent user experience with professional AV? Share them in the comments.