Small mistakes, big consequences
Imagine you have to change your operating system for work. The operation feels strange, and you accidentally trigger actions you didn't mean to. Now imagine that even small errors of this kind cause downtime. It is precisely these circumstances that GEA Food Solutions Germany GmbH wanted to reduce or avoid completely. The production line up to the final processing of the food consists of many complex machines, some of which require very different workflows. In the worst case, this could lead to operator error, resulting in food waste or loss of production – A costly and ethically problematic issue that GEA wanted Centigrade to solve.
Together with GEA, the renowned specialist machine builder, we have developed a design system that enables a consistent and intuitive operating concept across machine boundaries.
In the beginning was... user research
As with any successful project, this one was based on careful and early user research. In the case of GEA, we particularly enjoyed this step as it gave us a fascinating insight into the world of food production: From the machines that produce lollipops at dizzying speeds, to the oversized pots where the contents are still seasoned by hand.
In the process, we came to an important realisation early on:
Digitisation yes! But only where it makes sense!
The working environment in the food industry is strongly characterised by manual labour. Despite automation, human workers are almost always involved. Unconsidered digitisation for the sake of digitisation would be counterproductive. Put simply, if you don't have a free hand, you can't use a tablet or smartphone.
Putting people first
In order to do justice to the complexity of the various GEA machines, some of which are custom-built, we developed a scenario map at an early stage. This helped us to analyse and break down the various tasks and needs of the users in detail. This enabled us to break down the individual needs and tasks of the different user roles in exactly the right place. We have succeeded in creating a consistent operating concept that offers a uniform and intuitive image despite the diversity of machines and employees.
A design system is a collection of reusable components that follow clear standards. It serves as a reference that helps different teams, such as designers and developers, to design and create digital products. To keep the jointly developed user interface consistent, we developed a pattern library for the GEA user interface – GAID: GEA Aligned Interface Design.
The defined patterns are divided into different elements, from small generic elements such as buttons to full screen examples. Colours, fonts and spacing are precisely defined and form the basis for all patterns. In addition, an icon catalogue is available to facilitate the search for suitable icons.
So when GEA develops new software, it can be seamlessly integrated into the existing machine world thanks to the pattern library. GAID ensures consistency in both visual design and functionality, even across different machines and locations.
One particularly noteworthy feature developed during this process deserves special attention: the Timeline. The Timeline is a detailed report in the form of an interactive timeline that presents information about what happened in previous shifts to make shift handovers between two operators more efficient.
Key Information at a glance
During shift handovers, it is essential that the new operator is fully aware of any special incidents that may have occurred to avoid further or similar problems. The timeline shows if and when such critical events have occurred, making it easy to keep track of them and helping to avoid mistakes due to ignorance.
GAID bears fruit
Based on the jointly developed design system, GEA was able to implement a consistent UX design across all machines and sites, which is now being further developed according to the latest requirements and findings. The latest products that bring the user interfaces to life were presented at Interpack 2023!
Nelson da Costa Moreira
Group Leader Digitalization Strategy & Software Development
GEA Food Solutions Germany GmbH