The Key to an Effective Warehouse Management App: User-Centric Design

by | Jul 18, 2018

Custom mobile apps are effective tools for improving the Warehouse and Inventory Management process. However, a robust app with the best-of features can be rendered ineffective if the product itself is not usable. The key to launching an effective warehouse application is to create a user-centric experience that genuinely aids employees in improving productivity and performance. Let’s dive into what this means in more detail.

What do we mean by user-centric?

We mean: understanding the user, tasks, and environment surrounding the application. Poor usability can lead to user frustration and in turn, reduce overall productivity. The need for user-centric design is crucial when speaking of warehouse and inventory management applications — after all, these are the tools equipped to workers to perform their job effectively on a daily basis.

Some off-the-cuff strategies I’ve seen personally help Shockoe in deploying a great warehouse application include:

  • Get to know your user
  • Understanding the work environment and its nuances
  • Be flexible and aim for continuous improvement.

This was the core of our strategy with Arrow Electronics, an app that would go on to recognize our team with RichTech’s 2018 Technology Builder Award.

Know your user

Employees know the in’s and out’s of their daily tasks better than anyone else. They can often expose golden nuggets of information to help improve app flows as well as desired user-experiences. Whether you shadow workers or conduct interviews, the key is to expose needs and pain-points in the day-to-day. This information will give you the greatest insight as to how to design an effective solution that is easy and truly helps improve daily task performance. Below are pain-points we uncovered in our work with Arrow as well as how we applied that knowledge to the next generation of their warehouse application:

  • Pain-Point A: Product walkthroughs with workers revealed a need for clear, simple, and intuitive user flows. Solution: Minimal screen design, and clear CTAs on-screen to reduce distractions.
  • Pain-Point B: The small interface and visual elements on the previous scanners made it difficult to interact with the device. Solution B: Go large! We helped implement larger screens and from a design-standpoint included large text and bolder visual elements
  • Pain-Point C: Workers struggled to juggle boxes and packages while attempting to interact with small format scanners. Solution C: Large format CTA’s now make it easier to interact with the screen, even with busy hands

 

Understand the environment

Where an app is used can greatly influence whether a design is effective or not. Some important environmental factors to note include: lighting, noise, common distractions, and present equipment. Warehouse environments produce unique challenges; fork-lifts, conveyor belts, endless rows of supply, and obstacles should all be documented and considered in the user-experience — here are a few things we saw at Arrow that impacted the next version of the application:

  • Pain-point A: Multiple environmental distractions (steady stream of noise, bustling workers) and placing the tablet down made it likely to miss important alerts. Solution A: We made notifications large, bold, and sticky (make sure they stay on screen until dismissed)
  • Pain-point B: Finding the right box with the right item could be tricky at times Solution B: We Incorporated a label identification system (Area, Aisle, Bay, Tier, Position) into the app so that workers can match it to the physical product. see example below:

 

Flexibility & continuous improvement

This is a part of a strategy that’s unfortunately often overlooked. Companies are constantly growing, changing, and improving; the tools in place should do the same. Even great apps should be tested with users and iteratively improved over time. They should also be designed with flexibility in mind — sometimes the best ideas don’t work as expected, and being able to pivot to an alternative solution is critical to the app’s overall success. Not doing so, could mean greater failure for the rest of the features that do in-fact work. Here are a few areas we saw the need to pivot with Arrow’s warehouse solution and ensure its ongoing success:

  • Pain-point A: App testing revealed manual-workarounds being performed by employees to relabel already picked inventory Solution: Workers were given a custom print option to create labels that would reflect proper quantities and date codes all from within the app
  • Pain-point B: Arrow employees required different features for different roles. Solution: We incorporated a responsive user experience that would shift the interface to match the job function of the current user.

 

Every company, every process, and every employee are different —  that’s why taking a user-centric approach to design is essential towards an app’s success. It is up to the designers and strategist to always have the end-user in mind. A blanketed approach to a user-experience could yield great results for one warehouse system, but a disaster for another. The key to a successful warehouse management app is to start from the ground floor and focus on understanding the end-user, the environment, and remain flexible with your team.

Angela Balzano

Angela Balzano

UX/UI Designer

Ange is a Rhode Island native with a passion for problem-solving and a flair for design. She specializes in strategy work and creating intuitive user experiences. Her long-standing career in technology design has led her to become mobile UX/UI expert with an emphasis on enterprise application usability… oh, and she loves crime podcasts.