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Evaluating graphical user interfaces for buildings

Esa Halmetoja (Senate Properties, Oulu, Finland)
Francisco Forns-Samso (Granlund Oy, Helsinki, Finland and Department of Civil Engineering, School of Engineering, Aalto-yliopisto, Aalto, Finland)

Journal of Corporate Real Estate

ISSN: 1463-001X

Article publication date: 23 January 2020

Issue publication date: 19 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate six different graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for facilities operations using human–machine interaction (HMI) theories.


The authors used a combined multi-functional method that includes a review of the theories behind HMI for GUIs as its first approach. Consequently, heuristic evaluations were conducted to identify usability problems in a professional context. Ultimately, thematic interviews were conducted with property managers and service staff to determine special needs for the interaction of humans and the built environment.


The heuristic evaluation revealed that not all the studied applications were complete when the study was done. The significant non-motivational factor was slowness, and a lighter application means the GUI is more comfortable and faster to use. The evaluators recommended not using actions that deviate from regular practice. Proper implementation of the GUI would make it easier and quicker to work on property maintenance and management. The thematic interviews concluded that the GUIs form an excellent solution that enables communication between the occupant, owner and service provider. Indoor conditions monitoring was seen as the most compelling use case for GUIs. Two-dimensional (2D) layouts are more demonstrative and faster than three-dimensional (3D) layouts for monitoring purposes.

Practical implications

The study provides an objective view of the strengths and weaknesses of specific types of GUI. So, it can help to select a suitable GUI for a particular environment. The 3D view is not seen as necessary for monitoring indoor conditions room by room or sending a service request. Many occupants’ services can be implemented without any particular layout. On the other hand, some advanced services were desired for the occupants, such as monitoring occupancy, making space reservations and people tracking. These aspects require a 2D layout at least. The building information model is seen as useful, especially when monitoring complex technical systems.


Earlier investigations have primarily concentrated on investigating human–computer interaction. The authors’ studied human–building interaction instead. The notable difference to previous efforts is that the authors considered the GUI as a medium with which to communicate with the built environment, and looked at its benefits for top-level processes, not for the user interface itself.



Halmetoja, E. and Forns-Samso, F. (2020), "Evaluating graphical user interfaces for buildings", Journal of Corporate Real Estate, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 48-70.



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