UI as a Competitive Advantage: Aligning Branding with HMI Design

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Will Breen
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Summary: Our latest article delves into the strategic integration of branding with HMI, illuminating how this synergy fortifies branding and operational efficacy. Discover how our approach accelerates scalability and refines user experience without sacrificing quality. Get ready to transform your HMI into an unparalleled asset; read below for actionable insights to set you apart.

Often, the concept of "branding" or "brand" revolves around a company's product or the unique aspects of its physical design. This requires branding to bridge the gap between marketing and delivery. This process is typically followed by machine owners with distinctive product designs or those whose target audience doesn't require extensive branding. However, I've noticed a growing trend where the user interface (UI) in product design, especially for physical products controlled by software or Human-Machine Interface (HMI) design, differs significantly from the product and business design handed down beforehand. There are several elements to consider here, but my main disagreement is that a business isn't genuinely investing in its "brand" if its "products" aren't aligned with all its operations.

No matter what you deliver, you are a product company if you own a machine or physical product controlled by software. This means you must maintain and own both machine and software designs. One of the most significant challenges for product adoption is when the design doesn't align with the company's other offerings. Owners struggle to ensure their product enhances brand perception, awareness, and overall experience. Every interaction with your offerings reflects on your brand. "Branding" goes beyond marketing when you work with a product-led company.

UI project mood board used to start the creative direction
Final UI designs based on the mood board above

The Importance of Branding: Building a Solid Foundation

Before I begin, it's important to mention that if you don't already have a strong brand identity or a connection between your product design and identity, ensuring consistency across all elements might not yield the desired results when starting a business. However, once you've established the market demand and need for the product, investing in branding becomes more appealing as you attract new customers, gain approvals, and generate invoices. This is when your business truly starts to flourish.

When establishing a solid brand identity, your team should have the details and style guidelines to replicate the creative process independently. The final deliverables may include a cohesive color palette, consistent typography, branded layout suggestions, appropriate imagery, and insights about your target audience. If you've reached this point, you likely know how your ideal customers perceive your brand and the direction you'd like to take to enhance brand loyalty. These components are vital strategic and implementation assets in branding an HMI. Maintaining a unified and consistent set of stylistic elements is crucial to ensuring that your interface remains distinct to your business while allowing for better control over your offerings and related products, such as software. By the way, this article is not solely focused on branding, so let's proceed.

CN-Seamless product with unique design and shaped handles
CN-Seamless UI design with similar unique design features
Comparison of CN-Seamless UI design with the product design

Consistency is Key: Branding as the Blueprint for Product Design

Consistency is a crucial factor in aligning your branding with HMI design. Maintaining brand consistency becomes challenging without a set of consistent elements presented in a repeatable manner. When aligning my HMI designs with a client's branding, I create a transparent wireframe of the primary screen for the ideal audience. This allows me to focus on the hierarchy of elements on the screen rather than just changing colors and fonts, as the branding may not align perfectly. Next, I select specific elements from the brand that I'll want to incorporate into the HMI design instead of simply including everything. Ensuring the accessibility of these elements, such as background color and button color, is crucial for a user-friendly experience. I must also pay close attention to typography, as it plays a significant role in a well-designed interface. Utilize tools like WebAIM and Typescale to ensure color accuracy and proper type sizing. Take advantage of free online resources to complete this process efficiently. Finally, identify any missing elements required for your product, such as iconography, and find replacements that align with your brand's style while meeting accessibility requirements. Icons are significant for modern HMIs. Now is the ideal time to source and incorporate them into your design.

As a company operating in the renewable energy sector, your mission and values must align with sustainability and innovation. You can also prioritize sustainability in your product design to enhance this commitment. For instance, choosing less resource-intensive colors can minimize the impact on users' devices, while avoiding excessive text on the screen can reduce viewing time. Considering your mission and values during the HMI design process is of utmost importance. By initiating this approach early on, we can ensure that all the business assets remain sustainable and coherent.

Real Business Value: Beyond Aesthetics to Impact

Returning to business, as I mentioned earlier in this article, regardless of your deliverables, your company is essentially a product company. It is crucial to maintain ownership of both your machinery and software innovations. While branding is undoubtedly important, it is just one aspect of safeguarding and preparing your intellectual property for future growth. By ensuring consistency across all creative elements representing the business, you cultivate stronger customer retention and adaptability, assuring that each interaction aligns with your company's values, mission, and identity. Investing in branded HMI design establishes a solid foundation for your business to scale and flourish. Utilizing something like a unified design system that integrates seamlessly with your branding empowers a company to construct and adapt to an ever-evolving technological landscape, exerting control over the specific elements employed when creating new offerings while ensuring a cohesive link between today's product and tomorrow's advancements.

I have demonstrated the unique value of this process for companies, particularly those that own products. One notable collaboration was with TARGAN, a local AgTech company that secured a $35M funding round after implementing the HMI design system we developed together. At the start of the project, they had recently completed a brand redesign, providing us with the necessary elements for implementation. As a result, they have been able to allocate resources more effectively towards marketing efforts to attract new leads and ensure product consistency through the diligence of the engineering team. For more detailed case studies showcasing this process's impact, please explore my linked Case Study.

Key Takeaways:‍

  1. Prioritize Brand Consistency in HMI: Design systems that align with your brand are not just visually appealing; they create a sense of trust and professional reliability for users, which is critical for growth and scalability in a competitive market.
  2. Consider the Long-Term Implications: By establishing a flexible HMI design from the beginning, your business gains a strategic edge for future technological advancements. This forward-thinking approach saves time and resources, facilitating a smoother product evolution.
  3. Maximize Resource Allocation: Implementing a well-designed and consistent HMI allows businesses to redistribute their efforts and investments into core growth areas such as marketing and lead generation, thereby increasing their potential for securing significant funding and driving their company's expansion.