How To Design Lighting Control User Interfaces for a Typical User

03 February 2016

Hieroglyphs by Andrea Creative Common Licence

You have an important presentation today.

The meeting room is setup. After a late night, your PowerPoint deck is complete and ready to go. Your audience are seated and settled. Now all you need to do is dim the lights a little so the focus is on you and your presentation….

……Hang on, where’s the wall switch?

Is there one?

Do I have to use that complicated touch screen just to dim the lights? What if I hit the wrong button and plunge the room into darkness or the projector screen disappears into the ceiling again?

…..You are frazzled and you haven’t even begun! Your audience is distracted and having a joke amongst themselves; they have previously been in the same position as the one you now find yourself in!

Does this sound familiar?

Controlling lighting shouldn’t be complex.

The story above illustrates an example of technology for technology sake resulting in user frustration, rather than technology being applied to make the work environment simpler for employees.

Turning lights on and off, dimming lighting or setting a particular lighting task mode (‘pre-set’) should be simple tasks in our work environment. The technology used in modern commercial lighting systems should not compromise the user’s experience.

In fact it should enhance their experience in some way, otherwise, frankly, what’s the point of all that technology?

With modern lighting control systems, it is possible for any lighting switch to control any combination of luminaires in any way. Integrating DALI technology into each luminaire has made this both technically feasible and economical viable.

Plenty of control buttons, but what do they do?

This provides many benefits to the users of the lighting system commercial buildings, however is does mean that great care must be taken to ensure users are clear what each lighting control button actually controls.

Button labelling

If more than one button is provided, labelling individual switches appropriately is essential in achieving a positive user experience. Note however that providing unclear switch labelling can be as bad, or even worse, than providing no labelling!

Powerful control switch, but confusing labelling

I was in a meeting room recently which had LED luminaires controlled from a wall mounted switch. The switch included an LCD for labelling each of the provided switches. The switches were labelled as seen in the picture below.

Being in the Lighting Controls industry, it was easy for me to decipher the code of the first three buttons; DLs = Downlights and Scn 1 = Scene 1, etc. But what about users of this meeting room not from our industry? I suspect they would be confused!

Also, even though I could work out that ‘Scn 1’ translates to Scene 1, this description doesn’t tell me what Scene 1 (or 2 or 3) actually do. The only way to know what each is programmed to do is to try them. This is OK if you are on your own, but what if the room is full of clients in the middle of a meeting?

On the other hand, button 4 labelling is clear and concise – no deciphering required and the function when pressed is clear.

Tips for labelling lighting control keypads

  1. Always provide labelled buttons for the user, at least if there is more than one button!
  2. Button labelling should clearly identify functions for all users
  3. If removing letter or words from a text label (because of limited room for labelling) be careful not to confuse users – what’s clear to you may not necessarily be clear to everyone
  4. If using icons instead of text labelling, ensure the icons are going to be easily to be understood by everyone
  5. Don’t use generic labelling of buttons that don’t describe the function, for example Button 1, Button 2, etc or Scene 1, Scene 2, etc.
  6. Use coloured text and/or backgrounds on labels if they provide more clarity for users, not just because it looks cool

Icons for meeting rooms – Meeting scene,
Presentation scene and movie scene

We provide lighting control to benefit humans and appropriate user interfaces are critical to ensure the control system meets human needs. If we neglect this step, it doesn’t matter how ‘smart’ the lighting control system is.

When a user looks at a lighting control keypad and says, ‘all I want to do is dim some $%*#ing lights!’, we, the lighting control industry, have failed.