Of Slide Switches and Interface Design: Introspection on UX and EEs


Most EEs spend their time in school learning about the theory and mathematics behind electronics, but other, real-world, design considerations tend to go unspoken. For me, it wasn’t until I designed my first PCB until I realized that there was more to electrical design than working out the math and architecture in a nice 2D schematic. 

One of the most important aspects of electrical design that often is ignored in academia is user experience: how the user interacts with your device.

In this article, we’ll discuss how user experience pertains to EEs, and highlight some relevant news.

 

UX—It’s Not Just for Software 

When people think UX (user experience), they normally think software—and for good reason. Yet, while software is more concerned with UX, electrical engineers are concerned with user interface design.

For starters, before any electrical design begins, engineers are normally provided with an enclosure that they must design their system for. This enclosure is normally defined by the product design team, whose goal is often to make the product look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Already, the electrical design is being heavily influenced by user experience.

 

A teardown of the HTC Vive Pro. Image used courtesy of E&T

 

Beyond this, designers then must pick interface components, lay out boards, and define cabling in a way that will suit the user.

Is it better to use a slide switch or a paddle switch? What color LEDs should be used? What’s the best thermal design for a product to keep the user from experiencing heat?

These are questions that must be answered. 

Consider fields like AR/VR, where the hardest design challenge is combining sophisticated hardware into a system that is user-friendly. These designers are challenged with integrating intense computing resources and advanced optics into a form factor that is light, sleek, and can fit around your face. In a field where many companies share similar offerings, the user experience is an important factor that can set companies apart from one another. 

 

New Slide Switches from CUI

When you consider just how much user experience factors into a successful product, it’s easy to see why improvements in the field are important news. While switches are certainly not considered the sexiest components out there, in the context of this conversation, their importance cannot be understated.

One company that has recently made news in the field is CUI, who released a new product line of slide switches this week. 

 

New slide switches from CUI. Image used courtesy of CUI

 

Meant for consumer and industrial applications, these new slide switches can come in a very small 10 x 2.5 x 5.9 mm package, making them well suited for space-constrained designs. With switches in the line rated for 12 or 24 Vdc, currents of 300 or 500 mA, and operating temperature ranges from -40 up to 85°C, the switches should also accommodate many low-power applications like IoT. 

The switches can be either SPDT or simple on/off. 

 

Why We Care About Switches 

To truly develop a good product that customers will admire, there needs to be as much time invested into user experience as there is into the performance of the device. When it comes to electrical engineering, user experience often manifests itself in the shape of switches, buttons, LCDs, and LEDs. 

How often does your work as an EE require you to think about user interface design? Where has the choice between switches or other user interfaces challenged you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



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