Improving Your Mastercam Experience

In this installment, we’ll use the Mastercam 2017 Ribbon User Interface (UI) Design project as a case study for the analysis and design phases of a user-centered design process.

Here are some key factors that drove the Mastercam 2017 Ribbon UI design project:

  • Mastercam Industrial and Educational Resellers reported that Mastercam needed a modern interface and an easy to learn, easy to use experience to successfully compete with other CAD/CAM solutions.
  • The original Mastercam X interface was over 10 years old and looked dated with its toolbar-based interface and menus with nested fly-outs.
  • Mastercam X9 had over 850 functions and we add more with every major Mastercam release. A better layout and easier navigation was needed to make Mastercam functions more organized and discoverable.
  • Employees in the CAD/CAM workforce use other software in most aspects of their daily lives. The expectations for intuitive user interfaces and streamlined workflow from consumers has never been higher.

When we formed the Mastercam 2017 design team in the summer of 2014, we began by analyzing customer and Reseller feedback along with input from some great resources within our organization.

Fortunately for us, Mastercam is the most widely used CAD/CAM package in the world. Our Mastercam Resellers and customers provide a steady stream of feedback that we continuously collect and analyze. This data helps us understand what our customers want, need, and expect from their CAD/CAM solution.
We also used data from the Mastercam Customer Feedback program and from surveys to determine which functions were most used and most valuable to our customers. Interviews and focus groups held with our CNC Product Owners, Application Engineers, and Resellers also guided our design decisions.

Many members of the Mastercam 2017 design team had years of real-world experience with helping customers adapt to a large-scale interface change (Version 9 to Mastercam X). We knew that the benefits of the new Mastercam 2017 interface had to offer significant advantages that were worth the time and effort needed to make the change. So we approached the Mastercam 2017 design very carefully and with the simple goals of making Mastercam easier to learn and easier to use.

The Mastercam 2017 design team used the Microsoft Ribbon interface as a standard for developing the Mastercam 2017 design. Our decision was based on the high use of Microsoft Office in homes, schools, and workplaces; its interface is familiar and comfortable for many people. But more importantly, Microsoft developed the ribbon interface to address many of the same usability problems experienced by our Mastercam X customers; too many options that users couldn’t find, and an overcrowded overlay of toolbars and menus that left little room for the workspace.
A few main advantages to using a Ribbon-style design include:

  • Tabs that visually organize functions into groups and subgroups
  • Functions that are defined by images combined with text; studies have proven that this powerful combination improves findability
  • Expanded tool tips that display on hover and offer a more detailed description of the function
  • Contextual tabs which display only when you need them, streamlining the interface and workflow, and reducing clutter

Certain areas of the Mastercam ribbon UI were pre-defined by the Microsoft standards. We knew that Mastercam 2017 would have:

  • Home tab
  • View tab
  • File tab

Beyond that, we developed a design pattern that made functions unique to Mastercam easy to find. We met as a team for many months, 2-3 times per week, in 1-4 hours per sessions, brainstorming designs and often researching questions between meetings about certain functions.

What came out of these design meetings was a pattern for each tab in Mastercam 2017 that places functions from left to right, beginning with simple functions to more complex, and ending with modification options.

Mastercam 2017 Ribbon Interface

We organized toolpaths into contextual Toolpath tabs that display only when a specific machine type is selected (Mill, Lathe, Mill-Turn, Wire, and Router).

Mastercam Mill Toolpath Tab

The simple to more complex design principle was also applied to the Toolpath contextual tab groups. We organized all operations for each Machine type into galleries. Galleries expand when clicked to show all available operations, displaying both the toolpath name and an icon representing the toolpath motion. Subgroup headings and expanded tooltips were designed to help users find what they are looking for.

Mastercam selection functions needed a place in the new interface where you could access them at all times. They needed a home of their own that wasn’t part of the ribbon. Our solution was to use translucent controls in various areas of the graphics window. When you move your mouse to certain areas, the controls “wake up” and provide you with options for setting your graphics view and controlling your geometry selection. We also designed a “mini toolbar” as part of the right-click menu to position important attribute functions at your fingertips.

After months of analysis and design, we were ready to put our designs to the test. The next article in this series will describe how we developed Mastercam 2017 using a rapid prototyping process and validated its design through numerous usability studies. Stay tuned!

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