As a Product Designer at Tulip, I look for patterns in user workflows and interfaces when building apps. Take your favorite app (mine is a stock trading app called Robinhood), and you’ll find many patterns borrowed from elsewhere in the digital or physical world.

In the early 90’s, Microsoft Word was modeled after a physical piece of paper.  Decades later, Google Docs was designed with patterns from Word. Google Maps was originally designed with physical maps in mind, and Apple Maps took inspiration from them in turn.


Microsoft Word interfaces resemble a piece of paper.

So you’re designing your next Tulip app, maybe for an operator station on your shop floor. Where do you even begin? I’ll give you a hint — look for patterns. One of my favorite analogies when building apps for shop floor operators is a grocery store.

Lessons from the Grocery Store


Crowded pasta aisle at a grocery store

It’s 6 o’clock on Friday. Bright fluorescent lights shine over the hundreds of people weaving up and down the aisles, piling sale items in their shopping carts. Piped-in smooth jazz fuses in harmony with the constant rhythm of beeping cash registers. It’s absolute chaos. You might think I’m describing my recent Black Friday shopping bonanza, but no–this terrifying scene is what I face every week when I go grocery shopping. The Market Basket here in Somerville, MA is a top contender for the busiest grocery store in New England, and it’s located right down the street from Tulip HQ.

Fortunately for my fellow shoppers and me, the checkout process at the Somerville Market Basket stands in sharp contrast to the shopping experience — in fact, it’s downright orderly. Each of the dozen or so checkout lines has a steady stream of full carts, so the cashiers need to be extremely efficient in order to process customers in a timely manner.

Think about your last checkout experience. What process did the cashier follow? First, they took an item off the conveyor belt. Next, they scanned a barcode or weighed the item if it was produce. They performed this process on every item in the queue until they reached the divider, indicating it was complete. Finally, the cashier hit a button labeled “Pay” or “Complete”, took your payment, printed out a receipt, and sent you on your way.

Point-of-Sale (POS) Systems for the Cashier


A typical POS system interface

Before computer systems, cashier clerks would use very different tools than what they use today to process orders. They would have a calculator, pen and paper, price lists, and a small analog scale to ring up your items. The process was much slower, more prone to errors, and required cashiers to remember a lot of information. In the design world, we call this “cognitive load,” and good design allow users to offload this to the software.

The first version of the Point-of-Sale (POS) system was invented in 1973, and this revolutionized how cashiers worked. Users could rely on a computer system to perform certain functions and recall information. Today, it’s hard to find a grocery store, convenience store, or coffee shop without one. All of the information and functionality in the POS helps cashiers complete orders efficiently and effectively. They can see the order being rung up, dollar amounts for the totals, a weight display, integrated barcode scanners, and other features to assist with processing the order. Every transaction is being recorded, so businesses collect critical data around sales, costs, inventory, and employee performance. Point-of-Sale systems have changed the game for store managers and cashiers, and many businesses simply can’t run without them.


Cashier workstation with a POS system, cash register, credit card terminal, and a receipt printer.

Operator Workflows in Manufacturing

Now let’s circle back to your factory shop floor. Your operators need to perform many complex tasks in a particular order to yield a finished product. I’ve had the opportunity to sit at a customer site with operators who are experienced jewelers and stone setters. Their desks were covered with dozens of tools and materials. I could imagine it would take months, or even years to learn and master the workflow — talk about cognitive load.

What are the common tools we give operators to master their workflows? Paper-based work instructions provide guidance, unless (as is often the case) they’re outdated or lost somewhere on the shop floor. Pen and paper allows operators to report defects and notate what work they’ve completed. The worst tool though, is no tool at all. An operator in need of immediate assistance often has no convenient means of calling for attention. Sometimes, they’re unfairly the ones held accountable for this gap in assistance.

A “Point-of-Manufacturing” (POM) System for the Operator


Tulip Terminal, Tulip’s flagship app designed for operator workstations

This is Tulip Terminal, the world’s first manufacturing app specifically designed to maximize operator productivity and efficiency. It combines all of the tools operators need to do their job faster, safer, and at a higher standard of quality, all while tracking their work for visibility. Tulip Terminal offers users easy access to visual work instructions, work order information, parts lists, device outputs, alerting, and defect reports, and other invaluable tools. Compare the conceptual design of Tulip Terminal to the industry standard POS systems used by cashiers.

Many operators rely on work instructions to help them perform complex tasks. Instructions are crucial when operators need to double-check a step in a process or when a new product is introduced. Work instructions also act as an important tool when handling churn or reorganization within a company, because it reduces the time for onboarding and training. When an operator is promoted, leaves the company, or rotates stations, they have immediate access to a knowledge base for their role.

Tulip Terminal presents to the user a list of required parts, a component map, a tool output display, and work order details in a readable, easy-to-use format. “Call for Help,” “Report Defect,” and “Send Message” buttons can instantly alert supervisors and capture data when operators encounter issues in their workflows. Tulip Terminal App puts these vital capabilities at your operator’s fingertips — and the best part? They’re all easily customizable to your manufacturing process.

Connecting Devices and IoT

Connected devices for grocery store POS systems have been available for years, and continue to make cashiers more productive. Integrated scales can weigh produce, and-on lights can call for assistance, and barcode scanners can quickly add products to an order.


Factory Kit devices for operator stations

With Tulip apps, you can add any of the large selection of devices in our Device Library. An easy way to get started is with a Factory Kit, which contains many of the common devices your operators need at their workstation:

  • Foot pedal – a hands-free way to complete a work order or click any button.
  • Light stack – allows operators to signal to a shop floor supervisor that assistance is needed.
  • Barcode scanner – scan work orders to quickly begin a job.
  • Light kit – light up the work area to help operators find the correct parts and tools for the job.
  • Sensors – measure and display temperatures and humidity for quality assurance.
  • Break beam – Error-proof and automate work with motion detection.

Patterns in Restaurants?


Who ordered the house salad and crostini?

Next time you’re at a restaurant, take a look at the electronic systems they have in place. They might use an app to reserve your seat, take your order, or even relay your requests to the back kitchen.

Think about where the app borrows its patterns from. What tools and utilities do the kitchen and waitstaff need for their jobs? What’s the workflow of taking, cooking, and delivering your order? Why do their apps need to be designed differently than the ones at the grocery store?

You’re surrounded by good design patterns. Let Tulip help deliver them to your shop floor.