What Makes a Great Human Machine Interface?

Aug 21, 2018

Human machine interfaces (HMI) are essential to countless businesses’ operations. Not to be confused with a user interface, an HMI is an interface that allows a human operator to operators to control a specific machine, typically an industrial machine. Some consist


Great HMIs are responsive, meaning they quickly respond to the user’s command. Whether it’s a single button or an entire touchscreen panel, the HMI should quickly respond to the user’s command by taking the appropriate action. If there’s a delay, it creates poor usability while hindering workers’ ability to efficiently use the HMI.


Another factor that differentiates great HMIs from their average or less-than-average counterparts is familiarity. Even if a worker hasn’t used the HMI before, he or she should still have a general idea of what buttons to press to achieve the desired outcome. A familiar design allows workers to easily use an HMI, regardless of whether they’ve used it in the past.


Because they are used in the workplace — factories, warehouses and other industrial settings — HMIs see a lot of use. It’s not uncommon for an HMI to receive hundreds of thousands of clicks or taps over the course of its life. As a result, it’s important for business owners to choose an HMI that’s built to last. If it’s made of cheap materials and shoddy craftsmanship, the owner may find themselves replacing it with a new one. That, of course, costs money and resources, which is why it’s best to choose a well-made, long-lasting HMI in the first place.


It’s also important for HMIs to feature an ergonomic design. According to statistics cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 33% of all work-related injuries involve musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. And while there are many causes of MSDs, poor ergonomics is often at the top. When workers use devices and interfaces with poor ergonomics — meaning they aren’t designed with an emphasis on user comfort — they tend to develop MSDs. Therefore, a great HMI should feature an ergonomic design to protect workers from MSDs and other forms of repetitive strain injury.


Finally, a great HMI should be designed with an emphasis on efficiency. The fewer steps an HMI requires to achieve a desired outcome, the better. HMIs that lack an efficient design take more time to use. And for businesses, time is money.

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