Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The reality in control rooms when it all goes wrong

For those of us working in the control room design industry it is often easy to forget the reality of what happens to the operators when it all goes wrong and disaster happens.

For a reminder, read this account of what happened in the control room when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded -


Monday, 26 July 2010

Can good architecture influence behaviour?

Can the good design of buildings actually influence behaviour? There seems to be a body of evidence from the education sector that it can certainly reduce negative behaviours.

Providing an environment that is enriching, that is human, that people want to care for and has been considered to remove opportunities for unwanted behaviours seems to be key.

This feature recently on the BBC highlighted some areas to cover:

The interesting extension for us is the extent to which good design & architecture can take good behaviours and make them better.

Labels: ,

Augmented Reality in manufacturing

Augmented reality is already starting to permiate into consumer products - the advent of the iPhone and Blackberry with in-built GPS, cameras and compasses is allowing applications to know where you are and what you are looking at and layer over relevant information to the scene.

However, we've been more interested in how this technology can be applied to the working environment and business solutions.  This example from SAP shows nicely how it can help in production processes to support the operator in finding the parts they need - in an environment that is not tolerant of human error.

Or this example from BMW of how augmented reality might support a technician maintaining a car.  This has enormous potential to support training and enable better workflow.

Naturally, for human factors professionals there are concerns about de-skilling and usability, however the potential is fasinating.

As we look more at this area, we'll post more articles, so look out for them


Friday, 23 July 2010

Tube station training & simulation facility

The rail industry in the UK has long been on the slow side at investing in training & simulation facilities.  So it was most welcome to see the development of a new facility for Transport for London to simulate tube station operations (as reported in the Evening Standard)

Counter to the argument put by the Taxpayers' Alliance, on-the-job training can rarely equip staff with all the skills and, critically, experience they need - the nature of this working environment is that some scenarios will rarely be faced in real life but the staff still need to be prepared for when it does happen.  Simulation is therefore the best way to get this.

Let us hope that more of this kind of investment is made to enable our transport operators to deal better with the unexpected.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The external image control rooms can give...

The news channels have all been covering the further deepening of the crisis at BP - the latest being the photoshopping of the images of the control room dealing with the leaking oil well to make it look like they were busier and that the photos were taken more recently it raises the question of to what degree should control rooms be designed to give the right public image?

All of us involved in designing control rooms have experience of putting large video walls in that we all know are largely for show.  These walls mean that photos taken of the room or visitors coming in see a control room that has visual impact and the look of "being in control". 

Also an interesting issue is designing control rooms for peak resourcing or maximum manning levels.  This means that often the control room can feel quite empty and therefore give a quite different perception.

The interior design also plays a part.  We always talk to our clients about the image that they wish to portray and words like hi-tech, clean, modern, cutting edge, etc frequently emerge.  Demonstrating that again, they want the image to be clear that they are in control and are using the latest technology to do so.  We've also recently talked on the blog, and will do more so, about the influence of the film industry on what clients are looking for - we expect this to continue.

So the challenge seems to be designing control rooms that meet their main purpose but also give the right image - without anyone having to resort to doctoring images later on

Labels: ,

Are station ticket machines "confusing"?

Passenger Focus have highlighted the issue of how ticket machines are confusing and difficult to use for rail passengers:  It is an issue that we have been talking about on this blog and in some of our other activities for a while now.

The train companies point to satisfaction surveys as evidence that there isn't actually a problem.  However, from our experience, this isn't a reliable measure of the usability of the machines. Observational studies, like the one we did on bus ticket machines are required to really understand if people are having problems and what they are. Ticket machines are there to help speed up the process of buying tickets and reduce queues - if people don't use them because of these kinds of issues then it is a real problem as the queues at the ticket offices will build quickly.

What do you think?

Is usability an issue with ticket machines?  What are the problems you've experienced?  Does the solution lie with the train operating company or the developers of the machines themselves?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 16 July 2010

Multi-touch interfaces in airport traffic planning

We've been spending some time recently looking at the potential for the use of multi-touch interfaces in control room design.  It seems to be a strongly emerging technology in the consumer market but so far hasn't made so much impact in the world of command and control.

In digging around we came across this video from American Airlines where they were looking to introduce a multi-touch system to replace a rather antiquated paper-based system in an airport traffic planning environment which plans the movements of planes on the ground.

For those of you attending the International Control Room Design Conference in Paris this October, look out for the paper from Adam Parkes on multi-touch interfaces - there may also be a sneak preview of the paper later in the summer on the CCD website.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 9 July 2010

How human factors can improve train interiors

As the railway industry becomes more focused on the passenger, the role of human factors in producing good design that delivers what the passenger wants is becoming more important.

In this article in the International Railway Journal this month, our very own Mike Stearn highlights the areas in which improvements can be made. 

This starts with understanding the different kinds of passengers travelling on the service, what they need and how they behave.  How do you develop better seat design taking into account that a significant behaviour on trains is sleeping? How do you improve the personal space and facilites to account for increasing use of laptops and other mobile devices? How do you make access to luggage storage easier? How do you better provide information to passengers on the performance of the service?

Read on and find out!

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

User centered design in times of austerity

As the economic reality tightens its grip on both the public and private sector, what part can user centered design play?

Firstly, within projects is it a "nice to have" or a necessity? Our experience is that it is an investment and the pay-off is in minimising the risk of later re-design when it's found that it can't be used by the user. Get it right first time - surely this is a tangible benefit to all projects.

What else can user centered design bring? Most strongly it is part of good design. Involving users and designing for them produces products and systems that are better. They are more usable and useful and are therefore better accepted and liked. This can give a competitive edge to the producer. In times when people are more careful and selective about what products and services they use this is critical.

A focus on the user can also enable innovation and getting more for less from the design process. Deliver what is useful and needed - ignore the rest.

Finally, these times are hard for almost all of us. What we need is design that can inspire,  lift us up and make our lives easier.  We need this now more than ever.


Monday, 5 July 2010

Legible London delivers user focused design

Walking around London is being transformed by a wonderful piece of user-focused design (from Applied Information Group).  The two features of Legible London that really work for us are firstly the orientation of the maps to the direction you are facing.  This is different from the traditional orientation of having north at the top but makes so much more sense when walking.

The second element that seems to work so well for users is the indication of "time to walk".  Time is the scale of the map not distance which reflects what the user actually needs to know.

The comparison with the map in a bus stop near our office with none of these features was stark - in fact on that map you couldn't even tell where you were!

Labels: ,

Sunday, 4 July 2010

What about "standing seats" in transport?

All transport systems seem to be suffering from capacity and overcrowding posing the question of how can we fit more people  on the train, plane, etc?

Perhaps as its usual PR-approach Ryanair have suggested that standing seats might be a way forwards.  This article on the BBC website lines a number of people up to shoot the idea down as far as aviation is concerned (

But what about in rail? Could it help in the very crowded urban rail environments where just standing in the armpit of our neighbour is the reality for many of us?

Well in our user-focused world these seats might offer some support that is preferable to standing but doesn't allow the passenger to do many of the things they want to on a train - sleep being an obvious one.  Although tasks like using laptops for work or reading would be possible and actually easier than when standing.  Luggage is probably still a bit of a problem.  However, it would give a more enclosed personal space which is something that most of us look for in the uncomfortable world of commuting.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 2 July 2010

Is sitting up straight really ergonomic?

This recent article on the BBC website suggested that sitting up straight to work wasn't actually as good for your back as previously suggested.

…an interesting report suggesting the low-strain result of slouching, we're sure that the results are right, but what about the conclusions in the article?  The report could easily be misinterpreted

The posture may be OK for relaxing (isn’t this what this is all about?), but for all those people working on a computer at a desk, it can raise other problems:
  • Viewing distance to the computer screen is much increased in this position, making great demands on visual acuity. This posture makes the person lift their head, whereas, with an upright posture the head is more naturally balanced. For many people, there will be  a tendency to strain the head forward, creating more trouble in the neck than it saves in the lower back.
  • This is particularly true of those who wear varifocal glasses, since the increased viewing distance prompts a view through a higher part of the lens, which in turn forces the head more forward
  • It’s difficult to hold the arms outstretched for any length of time, so this seating posture needs to be combined with a lower desk, moved close in to the body – which limits freedom to fidget around. Everyone agrees (do they?) that regular movement is good!
The illustration shows a chair with what appears to be a good lumbar support. I would predict a very different result if the chair had been a canvas deck-chair, where the lumbar region has to be supported by the body’s own musculature.

Most of us have seen, heard of or tried the “kneeling” chair, designed to reduce the angle between pelvis and thighs. This has only a marginal success, not because the reduced pelvic angle is bad – it isn’t, but most “kneeling” chair designs actually limit freedom to move the legs as widely as an “ordinary” one. People with weak knees also suffer from the load on their knees

So, for most of us, an upright posture will still be the all-round winner for the working environment. As Ergonomists, we will probably continue to encourage people to sit upright when working and, critically, to keep up with breaks and changes in posture.

Labels: ,