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2019 

Brief: 

Explore how NATS can adopt new technology faster in the operations room whilst maintaining air traffic controllers' situational awareness, and measuring this quantitatively.

Lead Product Designer

Role: 

End to end UX/UI, experiment design, strategy, illustration

Activities:

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Background

When NATS implements a new system or technology in the control room, they have to decrease the amount of workload for each Air Traffic Controller (ATCO) to ensure they maintain the right level of situational awareness which enables them to do their job safely.​

"Situational awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status"

The problem

Currently, situational awareness is measured subjectively through a self-assessment survey 10 days at a time and 4 times a year, and ATCOs have to assess themselves on a scale of 1 to 10.

 

This makes it difficult to objectively measure ATCO’s situational awareness and renders any baseline questionable. In addition, the survey is encouraged and not mandatory, and over the 10 days, survey fatigue occurs meaning there is a lack of individual baseline data across the workforce.

The solution

We created an innovative solution to reduce to amount time ATCOs spend operating at reduced workload, whilst also ensuring their situational awareness remained at an optimal level and thus supporting a good state of health and wellbeing.

We did this by marrying the subjective data collected through self-assessment surveys, with system data extracted and piped from the ATCOs workstations and also biometric data gathered through the introduction of smartwatches and machine vision.

User research

To truly understand the problem, I led the UX stream in taking a human-centred approach, and conducted one-to-one interviews and observational research to understand the ATCO role, hear their thoughts and perspectives and empathise with them by putting myself in their shoes.

I created personas to present back my findings, and reframed the problem statement with the client, to reflect the fact that we needed to tackle the problem with a more human-centred approach in addition to the technology implementation angle, with the added emphasis on measuring situational awareness as a means to manage overall ATCO wellbeing.

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The survey assessment

I identified a number of significant pain points from using the current survey tool, which provides subjective data. We were able to alleviate the most pressing pain points by introducing integrating system data to automate some of the data collection (employee ids and session times) and by enhancing the UI and interaction design of the survey. Left is the new, more approachable branding I developed for the look and feel of the app, and an illustrated user journey to bring to life the new, improved user experience.

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User testing

I ran some user testing sessions to gain insight into how the ATCOs felt about the new branding for the survey, and also the type of questions we were asking. Overall we received overwhelmingly positive feedback with comments such as "this survey is a huge improvement, I would be happy to use it more frequently" and "I believe that the look and feel should be differentiated from the client's main brand like this"

We also got some more constructive insight into the use of data with ATCOs stating things like "I am concerned over the access of personal data and how it is used" which made us realise the need for careful messaging when launching the solution.

 

Another insight to consider was that ATCOs stated they would be interested in seeing how their own data evolves over time, so by ensuring they were gaining benefit from the data, they could see the value in collecting it.

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Product roadmap

This app will begin as a survey, but I created a roadmap integrating several other features that Air Traffic Controllers already use separate tools for, so eventually we will build an Air Traffic Controller 'Companion App' that helps them plan their working pattern, access key briefing information, complete the self-assessment and also proactively manage their own wellbeing.

Experiment design

Once the development team had conducted in house experiments to test various biometric devices and correlated their findings with mimicked workload, I played a key part in crafting the implementation strategy of the selected biometric devices to the live ops room, and how the data they provide would enhance existing system and survey data when the 3 data sources are combined.

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Communicating the strategy

To convey the strategy effectively to key business stakeholders, I illustrated a rich picture detailing how the biometrics devices would be introduced to the operations room, and how it would link up with the other existing data sources to provide a more holistic, objective view of situational awareness.

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What next

We are currently in the process of developing the new self-assessment tool to go live, and planning to bring the biometric devices into the live operations room in March 2020. We aim to begin collecting a baseline of data for each individual Air Traffic Controller, with the objective not to gain a singular insight from one moment in time, but to start understanding trends over time with the long term ambition of applying machine learning so we can train a model to start making useful predictions before an incident of reduced situational awareness occurs.

*Update* Project on hold due to Covid-19 

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