Why the User Interface is important....
I won some used Crestron gear on ebay this weekend. I bought it from a frustrated user that paid a lot of money for a home theater control system and the company that installed it delivered the ugliest turd they could. Ignoring the programming and any issues there, the initial turd-factor was the User Interface. This couple bought a budget install, the Mt-1000c remote is a one way, small low cost color touchscreen unit. and when I received the used hardware and powered it up, I can see why they hated it and sold it to me for a loss.
First the User Interface(UI) had no effort at all put into usability. it was a sea of buttons and basically ended up as a simple Universal remote. every button on every page, nothing to help you. They could have bought a cheap RCA learning remote and got the same thing that their $5500.00 Crestron install did. It was horrible even from a techie standpoint, it took 3 clicks to even get to where you wanted to be. It has to be easy. Wait, no.. it has to be brain-dead-easy.. If someone that has no idea how anything works can not pick up the remote and run the system, then the system is a complete failure. This is not only for home automation or theater design, Software, computers, cars, etc.. If I cant get in your car and figure it out without the manual for any previous experience, then the car design is a failure... for example, GM cruise control compared to Chrysler cruise control. GM hides theirs on the turn signal stalk that is hidden by the steering wheel. Chrysler put theirs as big clear buttons on the steering wheel.
Secondly, graphic design. no it does not have to look like a master artist designed it. but the colors have to make sense and not make the eyes bleed. The installer that designed this touch-panel must have been color blind. red-green-neon blue-pink-yellow. Holy cow it was hard to look at and hard to read. If you as a designer or programmer do not have any graphics skills, then find someone that does. College students are cheap to hire and honestly can do some fantastic things, I have seen some really intuitive designs from 1st year graphic arts majors. make it clean, pleasing to look at and EASY TO READ AND UNDERSTAND. That last pat is more important than anything else. BIG interface, EASY to read, MAKES SENSE to dumb ol' common people. It may make sense to you that the copy function is in the data submenu of the file menu, but it does not to the rest of the planet.
What do I do? Well one of my personal strengths is that I can search the internet better than most people. I can dig up things that many dont know exist or cant find on their own. I have found a ton of repositories of PSD and other files of interface graphics and use them for my own stuff. Crestron themselves give you nice looking themes that take out 80% of the work, that 90% of all Crestron professionals dont know exist or how to use them. In order for you to do the same, learn to use google image search, look at the different graphics sites and search for UI or buttons, etc.. what you want are PSD files with all the layers, but at time a finished png,jpg or gif button is useful. Also you can buy graphic sets pre-made from places like Gui-FX if you are selling to a customer.
Basically, look at your design. is it easy to use? a single button push to start doing what you want? I.E. Everything is off, they press "watch tv" and everything turns on and set's up the equipment to TV viewing, then switches to the controls for TV viewing. I switch to a list of presets and basic control. Making them press on, then select a source is too many steps. Take time to design your UI, design your interface for super easy use. Aim for no training simplicity and you will be way ahead of all the other guys out there that don't even think about usability.