Features and innovations

"Software ergonomics": the perfect match is what counts!

"Software ergonomics"? or "Ergonomic software?" Anyone hearing these two terms in direct connection with each other for the first time will rightly ask themselves at this point: what is it actually? And above all, what does software ergonomics actually mean?

In the midst of the age of Industry 4.0, the topic of human-machine communication requires a high degree of attention. In this context, it is by far not only important to ergonomically align the workplace, but also to appropriately design the framework conditions around the topic of software. In short: people, tasks, technology and the organisational framework must be optimally coordinated.

But let us simply start at this point with the concrete meaning of the word "software ergonomics". This term is basically defined as "[...] the characteristic of a software product to be ergonomically [...] designed"[1] and has as its goal "[...] to design software products according to the needs of the people working with them."[2] This definition sounds plausible, but in practice, especially in logistics, it is, in our view, too short-sighted a definition. Because contrary to what one might assume at first glance, a WMS is not only a software that is used to administer and manage data, but also serves, among other things, to organise the employees in the warehouse and to efficiently support the physical process.

But even this description is far from the end. This general definition is further substantiated by DIN EN ISO 9241, which specifies the following test criteria regarding software ergonomics:

1. task adequacy

2. self-descriptiveness

3. conformity with expectations

4. facilitation of learning

5. controllability

6. fault tolerance

7. customisability

So, in addition to the supposedly obvious issues such as good readability or sensibly ordered information in the dialogues, ergonomics in the area of warehouse management software is also about ensuring that the employee also understands this interaction with the system as helpful support and that it is not perceived as an additional burden. So far, so good - these are the theoretical specifications and ideas of software ergonomics.

True to the motto: "The highest level of quality for our customers", we implement the specified criteria with regard to the structure and handling of our warehouse management system SuPCIS-L8 in the way that common sense would actually do. This sounds simple at first. In practice, however, this leads to a wide range of variants - there can hardly be any question of a "standard picking dialogue", for example - which a software manufacturer must first understand how to handle. This is where our experience is in demand, but also the feedback from the users, which has flowed into the further development of the software.

Our warehouse management software SuPCIS-L8 supports the user in completing his work task as efficiently and yet in the simplest way possible. The default values for the input fields are sensibly preassigned and the SuPCIS-L8 application is self-describable. Questions such as "What dialogue am I currently in?", "What actions can I perform here?" or "How do I actually get to another dialogue from here?" are easy for the user to answer at any time thanks to the easy-to-understand dialogues. In other words, the user is always informed about the properties of the dialogue. This point already builds the bridge to the next ergonomic feature of SuPCIS-L8, because what would warehouse management software be without comprehensible controllability. According to the Bauhaus principle "less is more", too much information in the dialogues should be avoided. Does an order picker need an item description in the display in addition to the storage location and the quantity to be picked? Or what should be scanned for plausibility? The storage location, the loading equipment, the article, an EAN, a serial number or nothing at all? Configurability is required here. Does a key have to be pressed again after a scan or is the data taken over directly?

Further advantages of our software solution for the user result from the adapted font size and a uniform use of function keys in all dialogue fields. In addition, there are important error and information messages that users can rely on at any time. To illustrate this with an example: we use signal colours to indicate different job statuses. Red indicates an error situation to the operator. At the same time, by context-sensitively setting the function keys or icons (which are operated by mouse or touch), only dialogue steps that are currently allowed are available. For troubleshooting, the appropriate function does not have to be selected via a menu, but can simply be selected directly on a dashboard icon displayed in the dialogue or on the respective function key. Important key values are passed on from dialogue to dialogue and post-its next to the keyboard are a thing of the past. But here, too, several variants are needed in view of the different devices. In SuPCIS-L8, this means that the application must react flexibly to the properties of the respective end device used, especially MDEs, wearables and tablet computers - similar to what we know from websites.

We will continue to look closely over the shoulders of our users and learn from their operation. We are encouraged by the positive feedback we receive time and again. Can there be a better "unique selling point" for a software manufacturer than satisfied users who enjoy working with a system?

Would you like to know more details about us or our software? Please feel free to contact us!

[1] see: https://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/definition/software-ergonomie-44137

[2] see https://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/definition/software-ergonomie-44137

Contact us and talk to one of our experts on the subject.

Horst Reichert