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Kinova

Application to configure and control a robotic arm

About the company and the project

Kinova is a canadian technology company that manufactures service robotics platforms and applications for personal assistance.

I was hired by Kinova to design the application used to configure and control a new generation of robotic arm. Originally Kinova's robotic arm was designed to assist people with disabilities. It is now also used for industrial applications or in research.

Information architecture

As the application had to a support a lot of different features for different types of users, we started by working on the information architecture.

First we identified the “top tasks” of the app (inspired by Gerry McGovern's Top Tasks methodology. We ordered features by frequency of use and type of users. Based on this work, we defined the main sections of the application.

Kinova features evaluation table

Features evaluation

Kinova features evaluation table

High level application map

UX design

In order to increase stakeholders involvement in the project, I like to work iteratively and do more reviews. I start by doing high level wireframes based on the main user journeys. This helps me to discuss the direction for the upcoming design work. Then, I start working on more detailed wireframes of the user interfaces.

In the case of a complex application, like Kinova's, wireframes were especially helpful, they allowed us to validate multiple aspects of the system and iterate quickly before thinking too much about the visual design of the interfaces. Then, once finalized the wireframes beacame an important part of the specification documents for the development and design work.

Kinova wireframe

High level wireframe

Kinova high level wireframe

More detailed wireframes

Visual design and responsive design

Although wireframes really helped to define the system, front-end developers needed visual mock ups to guide their development work.

Kinova's branding had just been revamped. I took advantage of the new and improved graphics standards to achieve the visual design of the user interfaces. The goal of user interface (UI) design is to design attractive, interactive and easy to use user interfaces. The skill draws from the disciplines of graphic design, web design, usability, information design, and communication.

The system also had to be “responsive”, which means that the content had to adapt gracefully to various screen sizes. I documented the interfaces in the desktop and mobile format and then worked with the front-end developer for the in-between formats. In the past I have coded responsive websites (I have done a few contracts as a front-end developer), knowing how a responsive interface is built, help me to design more efficient responsive interfaces as well as to better communicate with he developers in charge of building the interfaces.

Virtual joystick, desktop UI design

Virtual joystick, mobile UI design

Takeaways

I really enjoyed working with the application team at Kinova. It is a very dynamic company in a very innovative industry (robotics). Even if my team was not working on the robotic arm itself, we had a lot of interactions with the other teams as we needed to understand all the specifics of the robot to make sure the app was working smoothly with it.

This experience helped me strengthen my adaptation skills to very dynamic and technologic work environments. I have gained experience in presenting the values of user centred design and leading a design process with more technical teams. It was also a good opportunity to refine my UI design skills. The managers were pretty happy with my contributions and they extended my contracts at several occasions.