Troubleshooting with OnTrak

During the Summer of 2021, I was given the wonderful opportunity to intern at Digital Control Inc. (DCI), a company that specializes in locating technology for the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) process. Their toolset helps drillers locate the drill head under the ground through a two part hardware system consisting of a transmitting device and a locating device. On these drill sites, users can encounter complicated issues with their locating system, but these issues are fairly common and the customer service department has documented standardized procedures for troubleshooting these devices over the phone. During my internship I was tasked with creating a troubleshooting application that would not only reduce the call volume for customer service representatives, but that would also empower users to resolve product issues without having to call customer service for assistance. My design specifically focused on the most common issue that needs troubleshooting: when no data is showing up on the locator from the transmitter that has been placed underground. With DCI’s gracious permission, my design process was as follows:


I began by gaining an understanding of competitive and comparable troubleshooting products, by looking at DCI’s own helpdesk site, DCI’s current product manual/helpdesk mobile application, Apple’s helpdesk site, Ford’s helpdesk site, and iFixIt’s crowdsourced troubleshooting site. Most of these applications were extremely text heavy (especially the help desk sites for Apple, Ford, and DCI), with links and subheads as the main way to navigate through the content. The level of text is incredibly overwhelming, and with hardware products, such as those produced by DCI, it can be incredibly difficult for users to translate what the text is trying to convey into concrete actions to be applied to the hardware system. This competitive analysis made it clear that the design needed to be far more visual, focus on single steps at one time, and include some gamified elements to make the troubleshooting interaction less tedious and frustrating.


From the foundational information I was given regarding the drillers that typically work with the locating equipment, along with the baseline information about the technical problems that users run into when they are in the field, I created the persona of Martin Dougherty. Martin is new to drilling, in order to ensure that even the most inexperienced drillers can still succeed using this troubleshooting application.

Martin Dougherty Persona


The design for this onTrak application focused on the “No Data on Locator” troubleshooting flow provided by customer service. Interestingly, in talking to various members of the customer service support team and my various stakeholders, there seemed to be a slightly modified path through the troubleshooting to get data back on the locator, which conflicted with the flow chart I was given when I began my internship. So, after consulting the head of customer service, I created a finalized version of a workflow which displays all of the possible paths that a user could encounter while trying to troubleshoot getting data back on their locator.

No Data On Locator Workflow

Although there are a lot of possible steps to go through, this process begins with verifying the equipment in use, and uses a decision tree to walk through possible fixes that the user can try on their own until either their problem is solved, and they can get back to drilling, or they diagnose that their issue is too complicated to fix on their own, and requires contact with DCI to deal with rare, more complicated replacement or repair options.


The final design for onTrak found inspiration from the iconic wordless instruction guides used by Ikea to guide users through the furniture construction process. The main goal of this prototype was to be a clean, pleasant, fun, and intuitive guide towards fixing any frustrating issues which might occur on the job.

The high fidelity prototype allows you to walk through the multiple pathways involved in this user driven problem solving process for the “No Data on Locator” flow as the user is walked through a choose your own adventure styled interaction.

Use the prototype below to explore the interactions for yourself!

The high fidelity prototype of the troubleshooting flow through the “No Data On Locator” support article


After several iterations of prototyping, it was time to test the troubleshooting application with those who would be using it on the drill site. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these user tests were completely virtual.

Participants: We tested the high fidelity prototype with 11 in house participants in the form of both field representatives, and customer service representatives.

Purpose: To gain perspective on the merit of the onTrak application based on those who work with customers daily.

Task: Users followed the steps in the workflow from selecting equipment and changing bands all the way through calibration.

After completing the steps involved in the user testing task, we asked participants 3 Likert scale questions to assess the app’s usability. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest/worst score, and 5 being the highest/best score, they rated: how useful the application was, how they enjoyed using the application, and it’s usefulness in the field. As you can see, each of these 3 categories found ratings above 4.5/5.

3 aspects of application usability, rated above 4.5/5

As far as critical feedback goes, I sorted my results into what worked, and what could be improved upon as shown below:

What Worked:

  • Clean UI.
  • Straightforward instructions that are nice and simple.
  • Felt like a game.
  • Helps focus amid the large amounts of data on the locator.
  • Diagrams are easier than trying to describe it over the phone.
  • Dummy-proof.

Areas for Improvement:

  • Testers would have liked a locator in their hands while testing (an affordance that testing online due to COVID-19 did not allow for).
  • More explanation as to why they are doing each step.
  • Ability to check for electrical failure upon closing drill head compartment.
  • More free form exploration.
  • Integration into Digi Guide, the current application for troubleshooting, and manual reference.


This project was a lot of fun, it was an incredible learning opportunity for how to create mobile applications with a more gamified look and feel, which helps reduce the tedium in everyday life. Although most sites that cover step by step instructions tend to have a long scrolling experience, the shift to small, quickly read pages hat users could swipe though shifted the experience to an entirely new level. This focus on simple, and clean UI will be a huge focus as I continue to design more applications.




Student at University of Washington studying HCDE and Psychology

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Valerie Remaker

Valerie Remaker

Student at University of Washington studying HCDE and Psychology

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