Human centred research – Design with humans in focus (2. desember 2022)

IFEs Halden Man-Machine laboratory. Credit: IFE


In the last decades we have seen society develop at a far greater pace than anyone would imagine half a century ago, and there are no signs of this development slowing down. Throughout history, this has been a consequence of our species existence, gaining knowledge and using it to improve and develop our surroundings. For the most part this has been good for us, but as we move further into digitalization, we run the risk of leaving people behind. This is where human centred research becomes important.

Knowing how humans operate is important

Digital tools are made by people who have deep knowledge of how the technology functions, but often with less knowledge of how humans operate. A good example of this is the elderly. Those who were born before the 1950s are often unfamiliar with digital tools that the younger generations take for granted. Smart phones, computers, and wireless payments represent hurdles for many people belonging to the older generations. Designing a smart, futuristic city centre, without taking this into account, will result in alienating a lot of people, probably the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Over simplified and in a nutshell, these are the aspects that IFEs human centred research bring to the table when looking at the interaction between humans and our technological surroundings.

The human centred research belongs to IFEs Digital Systems division, located in Halden. We have the knowledge about humans, and the knowledge about how humans interact with systems. This knowledge comes from our laboratories and projects, and several decades of researching this topic. We have a practical approach to the problems we are presented with. Our goal is to deliver research with humans in focus, applicable to solutions in the real world. This makes us highly suitable to partake in smart city developments, like My Digital City.

Research with humans in mind

In a smart city in the not-so-distant future, we will have many arenas where humans of different technological ability, different physical ability, and different trust levels in the systems will meet and use the same services. Take self-driving busses as an example. The first question here is probably how we make humans feel comfortable to ride a bus without a driver – what do we need to do to make them feel safe? This becomes a question of trust – do they trust the system? Which then becomes a question of acceptance – Do they accept that this the only option the municipality offers for public transport? Prior to this experience, they should have received information from the authorities explaining what is happening and why.

The information they receive is also a question of their technological understanding, their ability to process information, and the fact that not everyone can read. The point is that many different types of humans take the bus, ranging from the physically able to the physically unable. People who can see and people who can’t see. People who process information easily and people who have trouble processing information. In a smart city with few human operators, it is integral that the information is available and understandable to everyone. This is one of areas where IFEs human centred research is highly applicable, and where we have a solid knowledge of the human processes involved in this. Ensuring that everyone has access to, and are able to engage in all aspects of society, is one of My Digital Citys core focus areas.

Designing environments where humans can excel

A different example is in the professional settings. Industry, like all other parts of society, will have to undergo a transition to fewer workers due to fewer workers available. This will largely be done through automation, but the need for a process operator will still be here. The operators will have a greater process to follow and keep an eye on, which results in more information to process – meaning the risk for something to go wrong can be much higher. Humans are not great at doing multiple things at the same time, therefore the control room that they operate should be designed to support this.

Control room design is something we at IFE have researched for decades – starting with operators at nuclear power plants, to more recently operators in other domains such as air traffic control and the maritime industry. How do you present information to operators? Where should they look to get the information they need? How will the operator react in the event of an unforeseen incident? These are all questions that go into designing a control room when trying to mitigate human errors, and questions that we have a lot of experience in addressing. Our HAMMLAB facilities is a simulator-based research facility for studying operator crew behavior and performance in complex operating environments. This laboratory gives us many possibilities to carry out research on humans in various settings.

We offer a human approach to technology

We as a society must come to the realization that our human brains and our human evolution can’t keep up with the digital evolution. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we bring knowledge of human capabilities into the design of modern cities that rely on digital infrastructure. Thinking about how humans perceive and interact is vital when we design systems for municipalities.

Our holistic approach offers important insight. In a technology driven world, we offer competence and knowledge on humans. Our team of industry psychologists can also address questions regarding how to rig your organization for the changes. We can help you design control rooms with the goal of reducing the potential of human error and thereby dangerous situations Our knowledge on the interaction between humans and automation can also be of great use for the future automation needs of society, for example looking into how robots can be of help for hospital staff and other businesses, and how the humans who interact with them will react.

Keeping humans in mind when designing the cities and societies of tomorrow is vital, contact us if you want our help with this.


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