The phrase ‘there are as many ideas and opinions, as there are users of a control centre’ is often used. This might explain why project managers are sometimes reserved about user participation. At the same time there is usually consensus about the importance of trust and approval by the operator population. The Human Factors Professional is able to organize user participation effectively.
There are some natural communication moments during a project:
- Visits to the control centre for the task analysis
- Feedback of task analysis results and conclusions
- Presentation of design sketches of control centre layout and workplace layout
- Professional visits to other control centres (guided tours)
- 3D model walkthrough of a design, using Virtual Reality tools
- Full-size mock-up
Differences in background and perspective often result in communication problems between users and engineers: sometimes they seem to speak a different language. To have a successful interaction, the HF professional has to translate between users and engineers:
- Engineering ideas need to be presented to the users in an understandable way. For example: 2D technical drawings are difficult to understand for those not experienced in using them.
- Users think in practical solutions and ideas. These solutions need to be translated to abstract engineering requirements. What problem did the user group experience? Could this problem be solved in other ways, that operators are not aware of? For example: users may suggest removing all outside windows. The underlying reason might be a difficulty of reading computer screens due to glare. This problem must be translated into an engineering requirement like: avoid glare. This may result in other solutions for the same problem as well, such as relocating the desk.
Visualisation of a control centre design
Nowadays, 3D modelling has become relatively easy. As the images below illustrate, a 3D rendering of the model is quite realistic, and can look almost identical to the final built situation:
It is also possible to use Virtual Reality glasses. The quality of these tools is developing fast. The latest versions allow real walking around in an artificial environment, although the space is yet limited to an area of 4 x 4 meter. With some elaborate programming it is also possible to add hand-held controllers to interactively ‘modify’ the design itself, by moving interior elements.
Main limitation of the present VR systems is the lack of inter-human interactivity: the current generation of virtual reality provides a one-person game. This is certainly a weak point, as the quality of a control centre design is relying on subtle interactions between the operators. We look forward to the development of multiple person systems.
For detailed operator console design or control centre layout design, a full-scale model is still the most powerful tool. A full-scale model is called a mock-up. A mock-up is made of simple materials: tables, wooden desktops, cardboard operators screens, and an extensive use of colour prints for graphics. A hand-held phone, keyboards, mice, and hard-wired knobs and dials finish it off.
- A big advantage of the mock-up design tool, is the interactive way users can participate. It is easy to move desks around, or do some experiments with the readability of screens. Also interactions between operators can be studied, as can be seen in the example images below.
- A mock-up can available for some time: users, management, and engineers may use it as much as they like.
- The mock-up presents another natural communication moment for successful user participation.
To achieve the best effect, a mock-up session should be applied between the Basic Design phase and the Detailed Engineering phase: late enough in the project, to have a clear concept of the workplace environment, but early enough to allow modifications to the workplaces and consoles without considerable costs.