I work on a warehouse hand-scanner based GUI. It tells a user where to go, and which item to collect when they get there. When they scan the correct item, the screen changes, and indicates the next location and item.

Every location has an ID, composed of the location, the aisle, and the section, separated by hyphens.

I'm trying to find a simple way to highlight to the user:

  • Which way the next item is
    • If it's in the same aisle, is it a higher location number, or lower?
    • If it's in a different aisle, is it a higher aisle number, or lower?
  • If it's in the same location, but a different item, something special to tell them that, especially so that they know that their last collection was good, and that this is a new one in the same place.

Right now, we simply give them the location ID, and the user has to spend a few seconds mentally calculating where it is they need to go, in which direction to start moving. For new users especially, this can be a lot of time. If you spend 2 seconds to read and think 60 times per hour, for 8 hours, that's 16 minutes of wasted time per day, per user.

My goal is to find a simple way to get the user moving in the right direction faster, given only the two location IDs.

Your thoughts?

  • Do you have a map of the warehouse?
    – JohnGB
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 1:00

2 Answers 2


The problem is one of mapping. You have to associate something on the screen to a location in the warehouse in a way that makes sense to the user. The simplest solution is to draw a map (as suggested in the comments), although that would still require the user to translate from his current view to a top-down view. And if the warehouse is complex, this may be complicated.

Thinking outside the box, you could actually take the problem outside the application and modify the warehouse to solve the problem. Taking a cue from parking garages, the clearest thing to do would be to divide the warehouse into a small number of logical sections, and paint each a bright colors (or just a small strip along the walls). As the user moves from the blue section to the green section, they'll have time to mentally work out the exact location. And all you have to show on screen is a green dot. (You could also consider showing the upcoming color, tetris-style, to let them prepare mentally while their doing their collecting.

Another way to approach the problem is to ask why the application is sending them on such mentally challenging routes anyway? You could investigate changing the order of parcels to be collected so that the workers are always basically driving in the same circle. That way, the mental strain of figuring out the next direction will be reduced, as they will usually follow the same path.


Requirement : items stored in some sorted order

Classic old technique,

Color : Red , Current location ID is greater than location to be scanned.

Color : Green, Current location ID is less than location to be scanned.

As John pointed, if you have map then you can point him/her in right direction as well.

  • I think red and green may suggest that something has gone wrong. Neutral colors (if such a thing exists) may be better. Or maybe just arrows to suggest the meaning to the user.
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 16:13

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