The ripple effects of brand unification
The Middleby Corporation, which does business with 97 out of the top 100 food service chains in the US and internationally, was looking to unify the 60+ brands under their parent umbrella. With each new brand they acquired, they were overspending on new product UI’s that completed the same basic set of functions. From industrial deep fryers to ice cream machines, Middleby’s products operate similarly.
We recommended keeping the UI across Middleby products the same: someone should have the same experience whether they are operating a fryer or ice cream machine that are built by the same parent brand. To get better insight into user behavior, we observed them in their work environments engaging with Middleby products. Then we delivered wireframes, workflows, a style guide, and prototypes based on our research to give Middelby’s designers and developers clear guidelines for future design efforts.
Framing the problem with research
With existing assets and aesthetic guidelines, designers work faster. With clear specs and reusable components, developers create consistent code. With predictable design elements and interactions, users can learn to use a product more effectively.
An upfront research effort allowed us to discover product similarities, prioritize user needs, and identify places we could cut down on clicks, swipes, and a variety of other user inputs on Middleby’s touchscreen interfaces. If we recommended a button change on one interface, we hypothesized and tested with designers, developers, and end users to prove its legitimacy across the product suite interfaces.
Designing for a plurality of users
The people who use Middleby products vary widely. We had to do extensive wireframing and testing of the design interactions to make sure that they resonate with new users as well as veteran users who had grown accustomed to the old interfaces.
“Buttons should look like buttons”
It’s straightforward, but one of Fresh’s guiding principles is ensuring that when a user learns how to use a new product, the process comes naturally. Adhering to established design conventions is one of the best ways to ensure this happens.
Thinking slightly outside of the box of what constitutes a button, we used image labels to replace icons when possible. When we recommended using icons, we kept them simple, adding color for differentiation.The operator of two devices in the same brand shouldn’t be forced to guess how they work, especially in a chaotic environment like an industrial kitchen.
A guide for the future
The new designs were a vast improvement over their predecessors, shaving 22 seconds off the average completion time in operating one machine. After making final revisions, we developed a style guide to explain the design language system to future Middleby designers and developers. The cohesive system simplifies the product design process, ensuring that as more brands are added under the Middleby umbrella, cost and effort are kept in check.