What’s the Difference Between a Well-Designed HMI/SCADA System and a TV Remote Control?

How many of you have struggled with the remote control of your TV? Why is every remote different? There in no way the engineer who designed this thing tested it before releasing it to the market and it seems that no one else did either. Mine has over 75 buttons, of which I only use about 20; not to talk about the fact that they all carry obscure acronyms. 


The moral being: you never find the right button when you need it.

To miss the beginning of your favorite show can be a “big” deal in your everyday life, I understand that. However, let’s transpose this situation to the industrial world where poor design can have really negative effects.

Why it Matters

The importance of a well-designed HMI 


The main purpose of an operator mimic is to help quickly identify problems and causes. Similar to the remote, which is the link between the user and the gadget, the human machine interface (HMI) is the link between the operator and the industrial process. However, many users underestimate the importance of a good design. Operators should be able to recognize which information needs their attention, and what it indicates, with just a glance. For that, the operator not only needs a good user interface, but a system that also delivers a great user experience.


Operator screens are often designed by engineers who turn technical diagrams into plant mimics. They are trying to push the systems to the limits using a profusion of symbols and widgets, too many colors, no hierarchy of information, resulting in an interface that is difficult to read, particularly in the case of an emergency. It translates into increased response time, prolonged downtime, and possibly safety issues.


HMI Design



Keep it simple, keep it smart


At GE Digital, we have worked with selected customers and institutions, such as universities in seven different countries, to identify the main topics that should be considered when designing an HMI screen. We have come up with nine main topics including visual coding, information layout, screen hierarchy and navigation, alarm presentation, and more. These are the rules that we apply when we design our own systems. 


Some key takeaways that we’ve learned: Whether it is about the objects used to build the mimics or the colors used for their animation, it’s important keep it simple, readable, and always with the end-user in mind. Avoid 3D objects, shades and bright colors. One word can summarize the overall approach—simplification. And simple design rules can help reduce the time to identify issues and access to the relevant information fast.


The operator should have confidence in the system and be able to recognize and understand information with ease and speed, anticipate and recognize issues quickly, instantly respond, complete the task at hand, and navigate seamlessly. A good operator interface in a production environment means:


  • Less training
  • Faster reaction
  • Less errors and safer operations
  • Increased productivity and efficiency

    HMI/SCADA software in use in industrial operations

    Proficy HMI / SCADA

    Drive smarter operator decisions with model-based high performance HMI for faster response and development.

    Industrial automation engineer using HMI/SCADA from GE Digital


    Reduce costs and risk by enabling the high performance operator with model-based visualization.

    Industrial manufacturing operator using GE Digital MES software


    Optimize operator efficiency with high performance HMI while reducing risk with proven visualization and SCADA