NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

User engagement, design process and exemplar development as a research strategy for Human Centered Complex/Confined Human Environment Design

Dominated by engineering constraints, the potential for human centered design to inform the design of extreme, isolated environments such as submarines, Antarctica and even off world habitation has been limited. Driven by economic pressures and profession cultures fields such as ship building rarely include human factors in their design.

By Dr Peter Schumacher

This work was developed as part of the research agreement with DST My IP 6961


An important method was the use of large scale model making techniques in conjunction with immersive digital technologies so that the design team could build and simulate the environments for design development and user engagement.

Dominated by engineering constraints, the potential for human centered design to inform the design of extreme, isolated environments such as submarines, Antarctica and even off world habitation has been limited. Driven by economic pressures and profession cultures fields such as ship building rarely include human factors in their design (Gernez, 2019). Introducing HCD approaches in these technical industries dominated by quantitative design methods is challenging, particularly the use of qualitative methods.

The Studio for Complex/Confined Human Environment Design (SCHED) at the University of South Australia is a design research practice focused on the humanisation of technology in high intensity, high stakes, high technology environments. It used a tailored human centered design (HCD) process and method to investigates user needs to develop designs for people in extreme, confined environments. SCHED was established as part of a research project with the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) to develop a HCD method for future submarines to improve habitability, safety, and wellbeing. This included developing methods for the application of anthropometry to ensure the environment was sized to fit the user population.

There was an emphasis on diagrams as a method to summarise findings and explain the spatial, temporal, information, and crewing context; this made the concepts and ideas accessible and easily understood by all stakeholders.

To develop the HCD process a reflective design research method was used that involved developing exemplar designs to understand the best process and methods for the context. To understand the context a literature review, site visits and interviews were conducted, based on this suitable design methods were identified. Following this a variety of methods were trialed and improved so they were suitable for the constraints of the situation. For example, a core part of HCD is the observation of the users in context, however this was not possible in this context, and a range of different methods were used to make up for the lack of direct access. This included guided tours of facilities and running two-day workshops with users to gather rich, detailed information on the physical constraints and the user goals, scenarios, and behaviors. An important method was the use of large scale model making techniques in conjunction with immersive digital technologies so that the design team could build and simulate the environments for design development and user engagement.

Figure 1 - An overview of the HCD process and methods developed for the project.

Figure 1 – An overview of the HCD process and methods developed for the project.

The outcomes of the project were three-fold. The primary outcome was the development of the HCD process and methods tailored for Naval shipbuilding, this was provided as a report and how-to guide, Figure 1. The second outcome was the design exemplars that demonstrated the HCD process and provided design scenarios and criteria for future design assurance activities. The third element was the development of graphic formats for present the research findings and designs for user engagement. 

The development of the design exemplars to demonstrate and tailor the HCD process was crucial for the project, this was an action research approach with engagement between the designers (researchers) user groups and human factors professionals in the submarine program. The exemplars demonstrated how the qualitative research into user needs is conducted and how the findings inform the development of a design in a highly technical context with multiple conflicting criteria.

To communicate the complex relationships of people, tasks, materials, information, use scenarios, and spatial considerations a range of media were used including, physical models, virtual reality experiences, video flythroughs, and diagrams. There was an emphasis on diagrams as a method to summarise findings and explain the spatial, temporal, information, and crewing context; this made the concepts and ideas accessible and easily understood by all stakeholders, Figures 2 & 3. This approach to using graphics as a core part of the research and reporting method is in stark contrast to the approaches typically used in the technically focused industries.

Figure 2 - A diagram to show flows of people through the heads and wash basins at peak use times.

Figure 2 – A diagram to show flows of people through the heads and wash basins at peak use times.

fig 3.png

Figure 3 – A diagram describing the flows of materials in the galley.

Design in action to develop and refine design methods to suit a particular context is a meta-approach (designing to design design). It would be difficult to describe the approach without the design exercise, particularly to show its effectiveness for domains that do not use qualitative research and development approaches. The NTROs for this industry-university research project were central to its success, to develop by doing and explain by showing enabled the design team to work to their strengths and demonstrate their experience and capacity to create a deep understanding and propose effective human focused designs.

References

Gernez, E. (2019). Connecting ship operation and architecture in ship design processes. Journal of Ship Production and Design, 35(1), 88-101.


Dr. Peter Schumacher is a senior Industrial Design lecturer at the University of South Australia and the lead for the Studio for Complex Confined Human Environment Design (SCHED). His expertise is in Human Centered Design methods and processes focused on working closely with users to understand their environments, work procedures and problems and works with them to develop practical solutions that address their needs. He uses Virtual Reality, advanced anthropometry, physical prototyping and computer aided design to develop, simulate and communicate design proposals for high stakes, high technology human environments. He has led numerous industry collaborations in healthcare and defence.

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