New Emerson Human Centered Design Institute Drives Ease of Use
Innovative product development process reverses the roles of technology and people
“Process control technologies have come a long way in the past 40 years,” opined Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer of Emerson Process Management. “But the industry has almost exclusively invested on feature and technology enhancement, instead of designing around how people actually use technology.”
Announcing the culmination of over five years of detailed research into roles, responsibilities and use cases in the automation industry, Zornio declared, “We believe it’s time technology began serving people, instead of the other way around.”
“We’ve been incubating a human-centered design process since the very early days of our Smart Wireless designs some years ago,” said Duane Toavs, director of the just-announced Emerson Human Centered Design Institute. “We collaborated with Carnegie-Mellon University, a recognized leader in human interface and interaction with technology. CMU helped us set direction and get us started, leading to our staffing of this virtual Emerson Human Centered Design Institute, which spans design teams for all of our brands.”
The primary goal of the HCDI is to ensure that user work practices and improved task completion (otherwise thought of as workforce productivity, or usability)are at the heart of every new product that Emerson introduces.
Human Centered Design is a multidisciplinary process. Emerson created user personas, stakeholder maps, and conducted intensive observational research, usability testing and heuristics analysis, which are all key elements of the HCD process. These components of the process provide the insight to blend the disciplines of industrial, graphical and human interface design into products that are easier to use.
Human Centered Design is broader than previous attempts to use human factors to improve interface design or alarm management. “Getting inside the heads of users,” Toavs declared, “including how they interface with each other and the technologies is the foundation of Human Centered Design. The user personas and stakeholder maps we have produced came from interviews with more than 100 customers, and these help us define the ecosystem of a plant.”
“We observed that customer project engineering and design processes across the industry put too much emphasis on locking down designs very early in the project…often before the actual process design was done,” declared Zornio. “Not only does this increase FEED and detailed design cost and time, it also exposes the project to increased labor and potentially significant change order costs at the end of the project life cycle. Besides, the existing wiring processed were time consuming and laborious.”
“We felt that this situation,” Zornio said, “was ripe for an innovative approach.”
Emerson’s introduction of the new DeltaV S-series hardware is the first large product rollout that embodies Human Centered Design principles. Creating marshalling cabinets and junction boxes that can be ordered as a finished product with a catalog number and a price is a radical change in the design practices of the entire industry. “Electronic marshalling is a technical solution that is designed to improve work practices without changing them—just eliminating the most tedious, time consuming and costly parts,” Zornio said.
In addition, Zornio pointed out, there are many repetitive tasks users face daily, and Emerson discovered that Human Centered Design could permit them to significantly improve the design of device interface screens. “We evaluated device interfaces across the industry and found a common problem,” Zornio said. “Routine steps which operators and maintenance personnel perform frequently were cumbersome, confusing and illogically laid out. It’s an endemic problem throughout the industry. Based on user input from the HCDI, we’ve overhauled Emerson’s Device Dashboard designs to improve speed and accuracy of confidently performing these tasks.”
Zornio went on to describe what he called “a demographic paradox facing the industry. In mature markets, knowledgeable workers are retiring. In emerging markets, finding knowledgeable and skilled workers is very difficult. The process operator you meet today may have been hunting his breakfast with a spear last week.”
According to Zornio, the application of Human Centered Design will help mitigate this paradox. “By putting increased emphasis on ease-of-use,” he said, “we can meet this demographic challenge head-on and simply make it easier to extract value from technology investments.”