Engineering usability
Doktorsavhandling, 2012

Abstract The pivotal concern of this dissertation is that maritime instrumentation building on information technology appears to be more difficult to use than necessary. Initially, the dissertation puts the question of “Why is that?”. Reflecting the nature of the work presented, which is rooted in engineering and in practice, the core question is the pragmatic, action-oriented one of “What can be done about it?”. Holistically, the answers to both of the questions put forward by the dissertation are simple. As regards the “why”, there is apparently no systematic and sustained tradition of involving users in the design and development of maritime instrumentation; the concept of usability is not institutionalized in this domain; from the vantage point of usability capability maturity, the maritime instrument industry appears to be at an infant stage. Acknowledging this infancy, a simple answer to the ‘What can be done about it’ question presents itself: Grow up. Change the perspective towards usability, and begin to utilize the available knowledge base of maritime human factors, human-centric design methods, user testing, usability inspection and other methodologies. In other words, start to scale the usability ladder. This is where the complications begin. The adoption of human-centric design is not straightforward; you cannot replace one set of design methods with another. Seen from the viewpoint of design engineering, the objective of usability, and the introduction of multidisciplinary, human-centric methods constitutes a significant change and learning process. While the iterative method of human-centric design seemingly sits well with design engineering, other engineering practices are at odds with the canons of human factors science. The challenge is to recognize this epistemological gap between the two domains and find effective ways to motivate design engineering towards the notion of usability. This appears to involve an adaption of the style and methodology of human factors science knowledge transfer: Design engineers are practical people, and for them, “Seeing is Believing”. In this discipline, the need for change springs from failure and innovation, and the quality of knowledge is measured in terms of utility, practicality and observable effect. The main result presented in this dissertation is the suggestion that usability TEA – for Testing, Evaluation and Assessment – constitutes a inroad for human factors science and usability expertise towards design engineering. TEA is methodologically resonant with the tradition of design engineering, and thus readily acceptable by this community: Indeed, testing is one of the hallmarks of this profession. Because TEA provides results which are observable, and because the methodologies typically applied are seen as credible, TEA is seen as capable of creating the bridgehead for continued learning and application of usability theory and method – and effectiveness that is supported by experiential evidence, both that of my own, and that available in literature. To accept TEA as a potential way ahead, human factors science and usability expertise may need to accept that crawling comes before walking. TEA appears to rate low on the academic scale of human factors science, and is definitively not the most efficient way of developing usable products. Nevertheless, it may provide the initialization required to bring design engineering in the maritime domain more firmly onboard. The adoption of usability takes time, money, effort, patience, persistence and knowledge, and only steps of a limited stride can be taken. Taking such steps are however an investment that must be made, in the interest of the maritime users.


Erik Styhr Petersen

Chalmers, Sjöfart och marin teknik, Maritime Operations


Informations- och kommunikationsteknik



Innovation och entreprenörskap


Mänsklig interaktion med IKT

Människa-datorinteraktion (interaktionsdesign)



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie

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