User experience (UX) is the process developers use to create the most functional and effective products for customers. It’s about shaping digital experiences for users to provide the best way to interact with them. This blog briefly overviews the usability efforts within the Automation Products Group (APG)—highlighting where we’ve been, what we see, and where we’re going with UX.

The Case for Better Usability

An oft-quoted UX design statistic illustrates how McAfee, the global computer security software company, cut their support calls by 90% because of a simple user interface redesign, giving their customers a better overall user experience.1
Unfortunately, user experience is an aspect of design that often gets overlooked. In the semiconductor industry, reliability is paramount—and for good reason. Any interruption in an automation system caused by software reliability concerns can cost millions of dollars in lost revenue. As such, it used to be “ok” to have a bad user experience for an enterprise application—if the application was reliable and functionable.

Where We’ve Been

The software developed within Automation Products Group at Applied Materials is proven and deeply mature in high volume factories worldwide. Our strength and differentiation over the last 30 years has been designing and deploying reliable, feature-rich software that delivers superior results—but admittedly with less emphasis on usability, interface design, or user experience.
But the times are changing. Today’s new generation of fab managers and operators have loftier expectations for usability and ease-of-use.

What We See

Today we see accelerated digital transformation of companies and the economy at large. And we’ve seen expectations of software usability increase considerably—with greater emphasis on smartphone mobility, 3D-rendered equipment, simplified KPI statistics, and better drill downs.

Where We’re Going

We understand these realities and over the past few years have made significant investments in innovative technologies, from cloud, mobile, and advanced analytics solutions to next generation UX/UI technology and capabilities in direct response to customer needs. With this investment, we have done the following:
  • Formed a UX Design team to create new design process and workflows. This ensures user-centered design is applied consistently to software development.
  • Deployed a UI Kit with ready-made interface libraries and components, enabling functionality to be built in a quarter of the normal development time.
  • Initiated a process for better partnership and collaboration with customers. This allows customers to engage in the design process, increasing sense of ownership.

With its UI Kit project, we’re transforming user experience, image, and functionality with improved dashboards, reports, operations, and workflows. Our UX designers are engaged through the entire product life cycle, from the first contact a customer has, through user research and information architecture, and through every screen interaction in the software.

In addition, we recently entered a new market, introducing SmartFactory Rx in the pharmaceutical industry. Using Applied’s new UX design processes and workflows, our software development teams have rapidly prototyped product features while working to first define the product with customers, and then building the product with constant feedback from customers and end users.

And because the product was built using the UI Kit, software engineers had ready-made interface libraries and components they could rapidly bolt together to build powerful new functionality in a quarter of the normal development time.

In summary, we continue to be fully committed to maintaining our long-standing reputation for reliable, stable software solutions. But, in addition, with a new framework for building best of breed UX solutions, we’re now better positioned to shape digital experiences for users—providing an enhanced way to interact with them for a better overall user experience.

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