Resources for Hardware UI Design Labeling

Hello There,

I’ve been struggling with a product recently. It has many push buttons and knobs and switches. They all need labels. I’m being advised to avoid “putting the manual on the product” but I still need to make the text and icons easy to understand.

Anyone have any book recommendations on labeling switches or something similar. It’s a UX design thing? But from what I see, UX typically deals with software. Is that not the case?

Just throwing it out there.

Thanks :slight_smile:

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Hey Keno,

This is similar to the type of product I’m working on:

So typically, these do not have any kind of a screen. Since these devices are often handed from one person to the next, permanent labeling seems appropriate.

Let me know your thoughts…


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Charles: I recommend user testing. If you let 10 users (ie people who would likely buy the product) test it, you will solve 90% of your problem. Depending on product complexity, you could have them test it with no labels and then ask them to describe how everything functions. Or, put your labels/icons on stickers and test it. Keep some stickers and a pen on hand to adjust as you go long. Rinse and repeat.

Dreyfuss Symbol Sourcebook is a start, combine that with your creativity and Ray’s excellent recommendation of user testing, all will be good.

This this this.

Trying to “guess” what makes sense and then putting it on a shipping product is madness. To put the “Users” back in UX means you need to prototype, test, and get feedback.

Finding some target users and offering them a $20 or $50 gift card for some of their time to gauge comprehension will easily put you on the right path. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a room with a dozen smart people and we all came up with a solution that completely crapped out once it went to an actual user. The sooner you involve someone outside of the project the quicker you’ll find the right answer.

This also has to do with how you might lay out or organize the knobs/buttons themselves. Is there a functional grouping that makes sense?

My favorite example of this was when I was doing mobile keyboard design. Internal folks insisted that the “TAB” button should go on the left of the device because it is on the left side of a QWERTY keyboard. Watching users in their real day to day workflow quickly made us realize that “TAB” acted as a form-forward button and was immediately followed by pressing enter to confirm an action. So clustering them together wound up being a huge productivity boost.

Hey Guys,

Wow Keno, did you used to have that amp? I love it.

Thanks for the responses. We do have beta testing. The product will definitively end up there. It’s still young and I’m working on the first couple renderings of the silkscreen layout.

I think the Symbol Sourcebook, might be EXACTLY what I was looking for.

Thanks again…

Hi Charles,

If you are hired on a long-term basis you can definitely look into some more radical innovations for this product.

From my experience I agree that doing early user studies is of incredible value. The least you can do is an in-context task analysis and think-aloud or co-discovery protocol. You will get an overall field for the design landscape and just with visual composition you can improve much. If you go into the fundaments of HCI like suggested with Norman’s DOET, I also suggest reading up on the Frogger framework:

and Rich interaction as developed by Joep Frens:
As designers we need to start thinking beyond the WWII-era push-button, sliding and turning paradigm.

One cost effective solution can be capacitive sensing.
I suggest going at least for a multimodal approach where controls are not only distinguished by position and accompanying icon but also in other aspects like shape, texture, how they feel and make a mapping between the controls and their effects that makes sense in the minds of your specific customers. Also a clever integration of functions into one control (‘stacked actions’ in IxD terms) can be a great selling point for products, as we have seen with BMW’s iDrive.

Hey Ralphzoontjens,

Such wonderful feedback. Much appreciated. I’m looking forward to reading these PDFs. Totally agree that we need to think beyond the WWII era buttons. That said, you gotta work with what you have. In this case, I have silkscreen and some buttons that I can’t move.

But thanks to you guys, I feel inspired. Back to work for me.

Thanks again guys :slight_smile:

Hello Everybody,

I just wanted to share the final design. Thanks for the help guys.

The Dreyfuss book was mind-blowing. I’ve been going back to it non-stop.


That thing is awesome, just sent to a few buddies who are gear junkies and loopers.

Awesome, thanks dude.

This market from my experience is extremely unhappy with radical change so maybe its best to approach from a UX standpoint and then follow that up with excellent visual design to communicate your messages. I think clearly defined hierarchy, color choice, etc. will go a very long way. Might also be worth doing some paper prototyping and alt wire frames that will help you understand the user journey when navigating this product. Seems like an exciting project, I would love to work on something like this!

Those are great, also the presentation renders work so well.