Custom graphic overlays are a critical design component in many industries including automotive, aerospace, and medical. Creating an effective overlay design requires the consideration of several factors and deep knowledge of equipment operation and component construction. Because graphic overlays are customized, it’s important for each designer to capture application requirements prior to choosing the desired layout. A great graphic overlay will enhance the user experience and make it very easy to identify individual components on an interface.
In this post, we’ll discuss 5 best practices that can help to simplify a graphic overlay design. These suggestions are broad enough to be useful in most applications, and the information provided will cover the choice of overlay graphics, text, and materials. When a graphic overlay is well designed, it can create a seamless user experience that adds value for equipment operators and end-users. A high-level approach to graphic overlay construction is often the best way to create an effective design that meets all requirements.
1. Consider Ease of Use
Graphic overlays are used to create custom interfaces for control panels, dashboards, and other pieces of equipment. When choosing a graphic overlay design, it’s important to consider how operators will use the equipment to which it is attached. A person will need to reach for buttons, switches, and levers and will often use the overlay as a guide.
The overlay design can draw attention to certain components that are more critical or identify warnings or other information that may be helpful for operation. Another consideration is workflows, or sequences of steps, in which an operator will complete many routine actions in sequence. Understanding these procedures will help guide the overlay design and help identify potential ergonomic issues.
2. Choose the Right Materials
Another important consideration when designing a graphic overlay is the choice of materials used for construction. Two popular overlay substrate materials are polycarbonate and polyester due to their strong durability and resistance to common environmental factors such as abrasion and moisture. These plastics can also be molded into a customized form factor from a single piece of material. For extremely demanding applications, a metal substrate such as Metalphoto®, is often chosen to provide excellent durability and a long exterior lifetime.
A graphic overlay that is not constructed of proper materials can be prone to degradation by the surrounding environment and require replacement or repair. This is especially true for overlays placed on equipment that is used outdoors and can be exposed to extreme weather conditions. A graphic overlay project should incorporate all of these factors so that an optimal design can be chosen that meets all requirements for the intended applications.
3. Clearly Label Each Component
The best graphic overlays will have clear markings and a proper label for each component. It’s often a good practice to match the color and size of your graphic overlay to match the surface of the underlying equipment. This can include coordinating your design with button or lever colors and choosing a proper text size for each component. Many overlays also require the use of windows or cutouts for sections to avoid covering important equipment components that must be accessed.
4. Only Display What Is Necessary
Especially for more complex user interfaces, a graphic overlay can easily get complicated. It is therefore important to simplify an overlay design as much as possible to maintain clear visibility and readability. Modern printing technology is capable of high-resolution graphics that can incorporate a lot of information onto even a small-sized overlay. The creative use of overlay colors, backlighting, and finish can help improve the readability of the final design. You may also be able to consolidate labels for components that have a common function or are related to a shared purpose.
5. Use Font Size and Colors Deliberately
The font sizes chosen for text on a graphic overlay can be used to enhance readability. One common practice is to align the text size on the overlay with the size of the component which it identifies. This can often be done by creating a clear hierarchy on the graphic overlay that also uses lines, boxes, and other graphic elements to clearly direct the operator to different labels. Colors can also be chosen to differentiate between areas with the goal being to create a simple and efficient design.
Graphic overlays have become a popular choice for product and equipment designers that are looking for a completely custom interface solution. The best practices presented in this article are simple but can often have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of a final graphic overlay design. Incorporating these steps into your own design process can be a great way to explore new techniques to find an approach that works best for you.