Ethnographic Research and redesign project for Emerson Process Management



*Image 1: An operator in the control room

Background: I worked as a research assistant with Prof. Randolph Bias for the ethnographic research project of Emerson Process Management company. With our goals being to improve the display of information, and to assist in making excellent, timely decisions, we redesigned user interface for a major distributed control system (DCS). DCSs are used in process industries, such as chemical, petrochemical, refining, power, water and wastewater, oil and gas, and steel plants.

Research: We conducted ethnographic studies by observations and interviews in the control rooms of a major refinery plant and a lab. We also conducted task analysis and found the pain points of operating the plant as operators.

Challenges: The operators used a lot of jargon. We had to learn their jargon quickly so that we could understand what the operators said.

Samples of research findings:

  • High-level tasks at the refinery include troubleshooting the equipment, operating individuals’ units and equipment, and optimizing performance with other units.
  • A crowded software interface, complicated data display, and identical alarm notifications increasing cognitive load and decreasing findability.

Samples of redesign:

  • Better mapping of parameters to associated devices
  • Dynamic Infographic Process

Image 2: reorganize and move the supportive data setting to the top of the main body

Image 3: redesigned interface with dynamic infographic process

Result: We wrote a report and presented to the Emerson Process Management team. After this project, we summarized our findings and published a research paper in the journal of IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors. If you are interested in this paper, please click here.

*The image 1 comes from Emerson Process Management’s website since we were not allowed to take photos in the plant for safety reason.