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Creating a Smart User Interface

An Interview with Jim O'Donnell, Grayhill's Director of Marketing

— March 1, 2019 — Business
Grayhill is a firm that specializes in the invention and manufacturing of user-friendly interface solutions that will significantly benefit consumer lifestyles. UI and UX are crucial to the design process and the Illinois-based company relentlessly embraces and experiments with these concepts to deliver helpful solutions for the home as living spaces immerse themselves in efficiency and simplicity through technology.

With over 75 years of experience, Grayhill is maintaining relevancy and releasing cutting-edge products like the Touch Encoder. Trend Hunter spoke with Jim O'Donnell — Grayhill's Director of Marketing, about the innovation process, the company's engagement with a new consumer base and how the movement toward the smart home has impacted the business.

Grayhill is a company with a sizable history. How have you managed to stay relevant in the ever-evolving tech environment?

We purposely reinvest significant R&D monies each year to develop new human interface technologies. As a human interface company with over 75 years experience, our customers view us as a subject matter expert and involve us in their next generation design concepts. From our extensive global customer base over many end applications, we are able to use this combined experience to develop products to meet these ever changing human interface requirements. Some products are tailored towards specific markets, while others — like the Touch Encoder, crossover to many more applications than we initially targeted.

How has the transition to smart home-friendly devices impacted your business?

We are at the early phases of this transition as the Touch Encoder was introduced in late 2018. The fascinating aspect of this market is the plethora of unique integrations of technology and its capability to universally control so many applications within the home. We get just as excited as our customers when they start defining a new unique user experience integrating our Touch Encoder.

How do you innovate within the company?

As an engineering company, we encourage our engineers to explore their inner maker. While not every idea gets past the concept phase, every prototype starts a dialogue that sparks our continuous internal creativity.

You released the Touch Encoder earlier this year. Can you expand a little bit on the inspiration for it and how you will direct its future?

The Touch Encoder was born out of a failure. We had launched a product previously that integrated a touchscreen onto a rotary encoder. When we showed it to our customers, everyone said they liked the technology but wished it had a display. It only took a couple years for this feedback to sink in and we realized that our customers were onto something. While the initial product failed, the Touch Encoder has exceeded our expectations. We have some very smart engineers who love engaging with our innovative customers to come up with new solutions and features. This customer-centric design philosophy has yielded some new next generation concepts that we are very excited about developing.

Your press release for the gadget specifies that in the past you “haven’t been big on branding.” Why is this changing with the Touch Encoder?

We have traditionally been a B2B company which typically only advertised in trade publications. If they weren't a human interface engineer at a military or industrial corporation, most people would not know our company name. This all changed for us with the introduction of the Touch Encoder. When we started showing this product to our existing customer base, we could tell immediately that the Touch Encoder had a much wider appeal, especially when our customers started using it for their own personal projects at home.

Where do you see your industry to be 10 years from now?

We see human interface devices getting a lot smarter and more intuitive over the next 10 years. Traditional push-buttons and switches will always be needed in some applications, but the marketplace wants to make the user experience more intuitive with more functions that don't require an advanced degree in electronics to interact with designs.
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