McQuillen Interactive was hired by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories to develop a desktop tool for architects and engineers to quickly simulate building facade performance. The program is now going into Alpha release and LBNL is excited about the project and more than happy with the results.
Berkeley, California-based Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) wanted a desktop application that would allow architects and engineers to compare the energy performance building facades quickly. They created an Excel-based application called COMFEN to perform these calculations, but the tool was unstable and not provide the best user experience. They wanted to rewrite COMFEN from the ground-up to create a more intuitive, flexible and powerful application. LBNL hired McQuillen Interactive to build this application over a 9 month period.
Like good Agile programmers everywhere, we listened carefully to users before writing a line of code or creating a UI sketch. We conducted interviews with users in the field and watched them use earlier versions of COMFEN software. Did the application do what they needed? What tasks were difficult? How would the application fit better into their workday? We collected and presented this information to the LBNL team and then used it as a starting point for planning how the next version of COMFEN would look and function.
Drawing on our extensive experience with UI design, we created paper mockups to describe basic workflow and layouts. These mockups evolved into a mockup program that the team could step through and discuss proposed solutions before too much time was spent on writing the underlying code.
COMFEN3 UI Guide
UI decisions were continuously captured in a UI specification that guided later development. (The guide was only of high-enough fidelity to guide development, as guides like these can easily lose their value if they become overly prescriptive and absorb too much time.)
We slowly worked the Flex UI mockup into a fully functioning desktop application. As LBNL provided feedback and guidance on business logic and EnergyPlus interaction, we designed and developed the complete application, including:
- SQLITE Database design
- Application design and programming (using the Cairngorm framework)
- 3D design using Papervision3D
COMFEN3 Data Model
A complete data model for managing COMFEN projects, scenarios, windows, glazing systems, and other objects in the domain.
We built the COMFEN application using Adobe's Flex and AIR technologies; as a company we rely on Flex's exceptional graphics and charting capabilities and AIR's ability to integrate easily with local databases and filesystems and ability to deploy to different operating systems seamlessly.
A simple but clear interface allows users to quickly set up projects and then compare scenarios by dragging them into the comparison area. Facades and windows are fully editable.
COMFEN is now in Alpha release, and the work of making it a great application goes on. We're collecting input from users to refine the user experience and continue to make the application more usable. LBNL is exceptionally pleased with the application and is now considering further enhancements.