Client Location: Dongguan & Foshan, China.
Client Name: Disclosed due to NDA agreement.
A client who was managing multiple very large factories 🏭 approached me with a series of spatial problems that architects and interior designers had previously failed to address successfully.
I was given a tour of one of the facilities, while I was being informed about multiple problems
The UX problems
- The client has multiple factories covering thousands of square meters and way-finding in the factories is difficult.
- Multiple signage approaches were used but none has worked that well. Problems persist due to the space lacking character because of the lack of distinguishing features or visual cues that could help with wayfinding.
- All the machinery on the factory floor has multiple instruction manuals and other documents that are impractical to have at hand or maintain at each location
- As many of the machines have software updates, many manuals often in multiple languages, and other documents may need to be updated once or twice a year.
- Depending on each software update, there might also be important updates regarding occupational safety
All these problems amount to two areas that I considered crucial:
- Wayfinding, and
- operational about safety & efficiency
- Help users identify where they are, and where they need to go
- Offer manuals, safety sheets, and other relevant documentation as needed.
- Prompt occupational safety updates as needed
Each one of these three UX goals needed to be addressed separately. Some of the solutions offered were very non-digital and very low-tech, with a significant impact.
Helping users identify where they are
I designed posters that simply included the names of cities and suggested these posters be placed in prominent locations on the factory floors, to be seen easily in plain eyesight. China has 660+ large cities, many of which have unique names
- Each location in the factory was given a unique Chinese city name and each floor can contain multiple cities.
- All factories had exhibition rooms that were named after world-renown cities instead.
- All safety exits and safety meeting points were given famous Chinese poet names.
- Though extremely simple, this naming convention added much-needed personality to the factory floor.
- This naming convention for cities and poets was used to achieve the UX goal of improving wayfinding.
Once the naming convention was agreed upon, I designed simple A3 posters that could be printed immediately and could be reproduced easily without any training. A word document template was provided to the client.
👉🏼 Please note that for high legibility from afar, only cities with two Chinese characters were selected.
Each location in the factory was given a unique city name that corresponded to a specific poster on the factory floor.
These posters were quite successful at creating a sense of distinct locations within large monotonous facilities. An app was designed to further support guests and staff navigate through these large buildings.
The home screen was very simple – users only had to input their location, which was easily seen from the large posters shown in Figures 4 and 5.
Upon clicking on a machine on the home screen, the user lands on a page where they can see more details regarding the chosen machine. There’s plenty of info on this screen:
- Last inspection day (which is different than the weekly maintenance)
- Multiple documents such as instruction and operation manuals, safety guides, maintenance manuals, etc
- Who is responsible for the machine (including the shift supervisor)
- Multiple relevant checklists are necessary to be readily available on the factory floor.
- These checklists are provided in both Chinese and English
- Users can enlarge the text as much as they physically can, making it easier to place the phone somewhere while using both their hands on their machine.
- The entire app is designed in a way that Chinese and English are shown at the same time and there is no language setting to choose only one language. This is deliberate for communication reasons – a lot of the factory floor staff do not speak English and international factory managers could simply show their phones to the factory staff so they know exactly what they are looking at.
- The app also had a feature to offer guidance on how to get from point A to point B. There were no maps, just plain text instructions which made development quick and easy.
- Users have to input locations either by typing or choosing locations from a list, and the app would automatically display the instructions in plan steps.
Reception – Navigating the factory is now more humane
The client was very happy with the results, and international inspectors, especially engineers from Germany who had a hard time wayfinding and needed to have quick access to the relevant machine documents, were even happier. A quote given was that ‘navigating the factory is now more humane’.
This project was interesting not because of the high technology that went into it, but rather the opposite: the low technology that went into it. Something as simple as giving a name can have an enormous impact.