By Brian Mohr
The supply chain planning (SCP) process is complex, and you need a robust solution to manage it. The tricky part is delivering software to manage the complexity of SCP problems and make it easy to use. It’s easier said than done for a complex solution like GAINS. With GAINS X, the latest release of the GAINS Performance Optimization Platform, we made it simple for users to find what they need from the complexity. Why? So they can act faster and make decisions that matter.
The GAINS platform supports a wide range of SCP analyses that can be used independently or in conjunction with other tools to analyze and model large amounts of data through various processes. This process requires a certain level of standardized structure and flexibility, which must be built into the user interface so any user, from new to superusers, can execute the specific tasks they need. And it should be done as transparently and efficiently as possible so that everyone can use and understand the duties assigned in the tool.
Combine Best-in-Class UX Design with User Feedback
GAINS worked to make its UI/UX best-in-class and worked with a top design agency last year to create GAINS X. We sat down and interviewed GAINS users about their experiences using the GAINS platform. Users identified some aspects of the platform that needed a refreshed look, some key features that were “difficult to find,” and where “user flows could be more easily defined.” The feedback we received was very informative and went a long way in helping to shape how the GAINS team redesigned the platform and built our newest iteration of the platform, GAINS X.
The GAINS team and the design agency coupled our feedback with in-house research. They looked at making fundamental improvements to ensure the user interface met the basic heuristics—or industry-standard design principles—for such a complex application. We then formulated a set of design and functionality principles that we used to rethink and rebuild the GAINS X platform.
The following are some highlights of the principles and solutions GAINS X employs:
Wayfinding with Visual Cues
Users always need feedback on where they are and their status within a system. Visual cues like section headers and clear, standardized Warning, Error, and Success messages are two new enhancements in GAINS X.
For those companies that use our workflow tiles, we now give those users the ability to personalize the color of the progress circle in the Workflow tile. This personalization gives users added control in displaying their workflow progress and provides a more efficient way of determining their status within a given workflow. We’ve also implemented a WYSIWYG or “What You See Is What You Get” editor to create workflows so users can preview how a new workflow tile will appear as they build it.
Design and usability standards are constantly evolving. And when a platform doesn’t keep up with that progression, it can quickly develop an outdated appearance. (Think the look of Windows 98 vs. Windows11) More data should be displayed on the screen when new technology and screens are layered into that obsolete user interface. Over time, the old screen layout and functionality either can’t handle it or aren’t well suited for the new ways users want to use and display data.
Having consistently structured screens and tools that look and work the same across the entire platform goes hand in hand with another common heuristic for complex applications: A minimalist, clutter-free appearance. In its simplest terms, cognitive overload means the user can’t use or understand the information in front of them because there’s too much of it. GAINS is driving greater efficiency in GAINS X by using a more simplified, cleaner design giving users more control over how much of their data is displayed and presented.
Recognition Not Memorization
Constantly remembering where a button is or what it does can significantly hinder getting work done quickly. This issue can grow exponentially depending on the number of misunderstood buttons or tools across the platform. Users of the new GAINS X platform will be provided with recognizable and easily understood labels for buttons, sections, and data they can use to navigate the platform better.
The GAINS team moved the buttons displayed on most screens into action dropdown menus that will be placed in the same location on every screen. The new menus allow users to pin buttons they regularly use to the page. Otherwise, buttons will remain in the action menu and not on the screen.
The Freedom of Flexibility
Working within a complex platform can translate into detailed, incremental, and repetitive work to get the necessary results. At any point, the user may need to display data differently depending on the task. They may also need the ability to back out of a process they’ve started if they’ve made an error or changed their mind.
A few months ago, GAINS provided new functionality allowing users to edit fields displayed in Inspectors. The work can be done within an assembly and be saved to persist across sessions. These updates will give users more control over their work.
GAINS has also implemented various UI features to help speed up user interactions with the platform. For example, we now allow users to right-click on a query so users can add frequently used items to a Favorites menu in every section.
Consistency is Key
Consistency enables trust. The more that a user can depend on necessary screen elements being available in the same locations across all screens, the more efficient their work will be. For the next phase of GAINS X, we will provide consistency across the platform by moving all graphs to the top of their respective screens. They will sit inside a carousel so users can quickly scroll to the chart they need, and the entire section can be expanded or collapsed. If users don’t use graphs, they can create more workspace by collapsing the section as a whole.
Help When and Where it is Needed
Research shows that users introduced to an application will generally start using it immediately without reading any documentation. They prefer to experiment using trial and error. But they may refer to Help documentation if they get stuck, knowing it will be helpful.
In GAINS X, we continue to provide all users access to our wiki via the main Action menu dropdown in the top right of every screen. The wiki will be updated monthly with the latest enhancements and presented with visuals and brief content sections to provide clear guidance.
Moving Forward Faster with Customer Engagement
As we continue to advance the GAINS Performance Optimization Platform, we will work with a group of customers and partners who agreed to be early adopters. They will have been granted special access to our test environment, where they can use the latest enhancements before the official release. These customers and partners can provide feedback on each enhancement and will have the opportunity to shape the future of GAINS X.
Brian Mohr is the Senior UX/UI Designer at GAINS