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User-Centered Design

Well, 2 months in one for the news update!  I have been really busy and travelling up a storm.  November started with a 3-day Human Centered Design conference in Houston, which was very interesting.  It seems the world is getting very interested in these terms.  We prefer to use User Centered Design, to put the emphasis on the user or operator/controller.

People have tried to define User-Centered Design, but not many can condense it down to a single sentence. Most people define it as: – “User-Centered Design’ (UCD) is a broad term to describe design processes in which end-users influence how a design takes shape.  It is both a broad philosophy and variety of methods”.  I like that, but it has to be put into context.  My favorite author on this topic is Mica Endsley.  I use her book as a continuous improvement process for my own education.  I have actually worn out her book and could do with it in electronic PDF form.

I like the fact that she first describes where I came from in my career, Technology-Centered Design.  I was very good at this!  I learned that technology-centered design did not mold the interface around the capabilities and needs of end users and that an engineer’s approach to involving users in the design was to either throw it over the fence and let operators develop designs without any engineering or human factor guidance, or alternatively to bully operators into submission and influence the design with preconceived ideas.

Well, as you may perceive I am a convert, and have been applying these new techniques for over 10 years now.  I now hold workshops on Situation Awareness which is the key to achieving user-centered design.  This approach has revolutionized the way we design human machine interfaces.  In fact, we have gone one stage further and have stated that if the new design does not impact the operator’s performance we have not done it correctly.  We know these new techniques reduce human error and provide a better work environment.

During these past months, I have travelled to some beautiful and interesting places.  I meet up with my good friend Windsor Coles, who was one of the HSE inspectors involved with the Texaco Pembroke investigation in the early 90’s.  I was one of the people interviewed on behalf of Honeywell during that period and we have been good friends for many years.  I loved having fellowship with him and catching up on his interesting life as a safety consultant.  If ever a man deserved his OBE he has certainly earned his many times.

My wife and I were invited to the Livery Engineers Dinner at the Lord Mayor of London’s Mansion House.  A spectacular building with historical rooms that typify the greatness of Great Britain.  We enjoyed the tradition of the meals and the 683rd Lord Mayor, Alderman Michael Bear, addressed the engineers with wit and talent and provided a motivational speech that was necessary for a time in European and English history.  We shared the evening with Windsor Coles, Susie and good friends from Cardiff Dr. Keith and Mrs. Janet Williams.

My trip to UK was fun and I did manage to take a few days’ vacation to catch up with friends and family.  We actually did some sightseeing and visited the Beatles Museum in Liverpool.  But you probably don’t want to know that!

I met with Dr. Robin Brooks of PPCL in the UK and we defined a new agreement where User Centered Design Services in Austin, Texas will be a formal new agent represented by Steve Maddox. We are beginning our new relationship of us promoting the PPCL CPM software by running several webinars.  Steve will be very active in the sales of this exciting alarm management product which supports our initiatives and workshops for alarm management and helping customers by providing the best Alarm Philosophy available today and in full compliance with EEMUA 191 and ISA SP18.01.

I also got to Cardiff to visit an existing customer that is looking at doing an upgrade to their existing control room.  They, like many of customers, face challenges with existing buildings looking at how best to use the space available, how to configure consoles and to decide what features a new console should have (such as sit/stand).  Lighting is also a major challenge and we have unique solutions and Human Factor/Engineering solutions that are based on our User-Centered Design approach that really addresses the ergonomics as we follow the ISO 11064 Standard.

After England, I had a blast sharing with about 30 customers at a workshop we sponsored in Austin, Texas. We were joined by good friend’s Lyn & Associates who provided several demos of their tools and services.  We received some great feedback from customers, thank you all so much.  We are sorry that the hotel let us down a little and did not provide a bigger room for the number of people we had, however, the food and service was exceptional.  We are talking about hosting another one as so many people have commented they would like others to attend.  So, watch the website for details or keep in contact with Steve Maddox.

After the workshop, Dave and I spent time planning for the future in Sedona, Arizona (yea, I know it is a rough life but someone has to do it!). We did have a productive time and discussed new plans for a re-design of the website…so watch for some new changes coming soon.  We also enjoyed time walking and admiring the beautiful landscape in Sedona with our wives and children.  We nearly got into trouble with Melinda for taking her oldest swimming without a swimsuit!  She had fun while Mel tried to get the twins to have a nap.  Even my daughter and grandchildren got in on the fun; it was Thanksgiving and a family time together. We have had a lot to be thankful for this last year for which I am grateful to all of our clients that continue to put your trust in us.  We enjoy working with you and we all provide our very best service.

Our annual meeting is a time for us to review what we have done over the last year, sharpen our pencils (so to speak) and look for ways to improve what we do and how we do it.

How do you follow a week like that? Well, Dave and I got on an airplane of course and headed for Trinidad to look at a customer’s control room and help them re-design it.  We will be going back in January to do workshops ready for new Philosophy documents for HMI and Alarm Management.

I went from there to do another PHMSA Fatigue Workshop, Situation Awareness Workshop and HMI Workshop with EnerSys in Longview, Texas working with my good friend Paul Jones. This included a 3 hour drive from Dallas DFW airport to Longview followed by the same journey the following week to help a refining customer in Shreveport, LA understand their console operator workload and number of operators to staff their new central control room.

Dave and Steve were on their own last week at a client in Texas while Harry is back at the mine in Salt Lake starting a big project with two new members of our team.  We have recently launched our new services of providing technical training manuals for console operators and field operators.  Recent feedback from the customer stated:  “Thanks for all your help; I even received positive comments from the operators about the work that you were doing.  I believe you have even turned their skeptical eyes on the benefits of this project”.

UCDS wants to welcome Ray Fortenberry and Robert Kosar to the team.  They both have extensive experience in operations and developing training manuals.

This brings us pretty well up to date apart from all the things I have forgotten.  I just want to again say thank you for a great year, we look forward to working with you in the New Year.  I am already getting very booked up with a trip to Trinidad, Norway and Texas planned for January.


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from UCDS Inc.

P.S. – Tell Santa what you would like for your plant next year –