Don't Undervalue Ease of User Interface

October 30, 2018 Altium Designer

Ease of user interface

 

 

You know how cooking can get complicated when you aren’t in your own kitchen? Since they aren’t “right where you left them”, you have to hunt for a pan or utensil that will work for what you are doing. It takes more time and possibly burning some eggs while you are looking for a spatula. And that’s just cooking something simple for breakfast; imagine trying to prepare a complicated meal. Situations like this are what help the restaurant business continue their profitability.

 

Although we may chuckle over the thought of smoking eggs and smoke detectors beeping their displeasure over the acrid odor of a burning breakfast, it isn’t nearly so funny we can’t find the right commands in our PCB design software. Like pans and utensils that are out of place in the kitchen, menus and commands that aren’t in a logical location in our CAD software can really slow down what we are trying to accomplish. When you are trying to coordinate multiple tools together, such as schematic capture and PCB layout, the problem only gets worse. See if any of these ease of user interface problems sound like the PCB design kitchen that you are working in:

Throwing Functionality at a Tool and Hoping it Sticks

It’s a common occurrence; a PCB CAD vendor will absorb additional technology and add it to their current design tools. Everything including PCB design tools need to grow and evolve, but throwing functionality at a design tool like throwing pasta on the ceiling doesn’t always work the way it was hoped. Sometimes it sticks, and sometimes it comes back in your face.

 

User experience is an important facet of any computer-aided design software. Whether its simple usability, access to design process and model interaction, output file format or CAD viewer with PCB layout, designers have a lot to look out for when considering CAD software ease of user interface. Usability testing helps, however, CAD systems need to keep user-friendly software and user experience in mind when considering the learning curve for designers and engineers.

 

Unfortunately for the designer the technology that doesn’t stick will cause quite the headache. The new functionality added to an existing tool may not blend in with the rest of the tool. The menu commands and control buttons may be difficult to find, and flow of the functionality may differ from the established tool. It may seem like using the new “X” function in your CAD tools is a good idea, but you may spend a lot of time learning how to make it work with what you are already familiar with in your design software.

 

Screenshot of AD18 unified design environment in ease of user interface

The ease of user interface is much better in design tools with a common design environment

 

Continually Adding Ingredients May Work in a Stew, But Not in PCB Design Tools

The greater pain however comes with working with multiple design tools in your software that were not originally designed to work together. CAD vendors will try to stay competitive with the market by purchasing outside technology, and then blending it into their CAD system. To make this work however requires the use of translators and interfaces. This may all happen “under-the-hood”, but you are still dealing with different data formats that have to be altered in order to get them from tool to tool. This may require additional steps in the design software to accommodate the transfer process between tools where it should have been a simple matter of opening the other tool on the data.

 

Adding foreign tools into an established tool set can make life very difficult for the user. There may be a whole new set of commands to send the data back and forth between the tools which may alter how the original tools were intended to be used. It is not uncommon for the entire user interface to change in order accommodate the new technology. Without a CAD tool data environment that is designed for growth, adding new technology and functionality into the mix can lead to big complications for the user as they have to constantly relearn the same tool set over and over again. What you may end up with is a lot of separate tools that are simply all sold together that may end up hurting your productivity more than it will help.

 

 

Screenshot of AD18 multiple tools in ease of user interface

The unified design environment makes working with multiple tools much easier

 

A Unified Design Environment Cultivates the Ease of a User Interface

The recipe to get around this problem is to use a PCB design tool set that has been designed from the start for all of their tools to work together. Design tools that work this way are built around a common unified design and data environment. This allows for the same data format and handling to be used throughout the design cycle and eliminates the need for complex data transfer processes.

 

When you use a set of design tools that are built on a foundation designed to grow, their growth will come easily and naturally. New functionality will add to the existing user interface instead of redefining it. This will help you as the designer to not spend your time looking for the pan and spatula that you’ve always used because they are still right where you left them.

 

The PCB design tool set that we use is Altium Designer. The engineers at Altium have over 30 years of experience behind them creating their software, and their forethought and care with these tools show. New functionality is added on a regular basis, and yet it is naturally folded into the unified design environment instead of being forced into where it doesn’t fit. Using the different tools and features of Altium Designer is a pleasure as the unified design environment naturally combines all the functionality together in a logical manor.

 

It’s time for CAD programs to take user-friendly software into the forefront for their usability testing and model for their design process. Altium Designer is an advanced set of PCB design software tools with a unified design and data environment as one of its key features. Altium Designer also contains many other innovative tools and functionality that help PCB design productivity as well as enable the user experience to be better.

 

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help your productivity with tools that feature the ease of their user interface? Talk to an expert at Altium.

About the Author

Altium Designer

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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