About the Project
Team Sora worked with the Boeing Company to help improve the working environment in Boeing Renton Factory using User Centered Design Methods. Our goal is to foster workers' craftsmanship through streamlining communication
1. Field Study
We conducted two on-site ethnographic researches in Boeing factories near Seattle; each field study lasted three days. During our first field study, we visited both Everett factory(where larger jets like 747, 777 and 787 are assembled) and Renton factory(Where the smaller jet 737 is assembled). We interviewed subject matter experts from Boeing to learn about the company culture, organization structure, manufacturing process, and factory floor work flow. We also observed and interviewed 10 workers from 3 different work flow days within the Renton factory (Boeing 737 Production Line).
During our second field study, we observed and interviewed 49 workers from all flow days (10 flow days in total) on the 737 production line in Renton factory.
2. User Research Constraints
The biggest challenge we had was simply to get enough time with the people we are designing for. They are the people who put together a Boeing 737 with millions of parts in 11 days! 42 planes a month! Because they are a very specific group of people working in a very specific context, and located (near Seattle) far from our design working location (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), we couldn’t get ready access to our target users, and lightweight research with general population using methods like Guerrilla Research wouldn’t help either. The factory floor is also highly secured ground, which means no camera or audio recordings are allowed. So we couldn’t do remote user research or usability testing. We were lucky enough to get 7 days in total (Feb 12 – Feb 15, Feb 26 – Feb 28) to observe and interview factory employees on the floor.
3. Building Empathy
To help build empathy for factory workers at Boeing Renton factory, we actively communicate with our clients (two tech fellows at Boeing), one Lean Production Manager and other Subject Matter Experts from Boeing to learn about the 737 assembly line work flow before we visit the factory floor. In doing so, we were able to maximize our observation and interviewing time with workers on factory floor.
We also utilized local studies in Pittsburgh to build empathy for our target users. We interviewed auto mechanics from local auto shops, and we used Speed Dating, a design research method developed at CMU, to validate some of our early design ideas with aircraft mechanics from Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
4. Data Interpretation and Synthesis
We collected 837 notes (raw data) from our field study. We used Affinity Diagraming (Contextual Design) to reveal patterns and themes from the data. We generated 52 key issues, and then categorized them into 12 themes.
We drew 9 Flow Models of workers with various job roles to visually analyze how they interact with each other, how they use digital and non-digital artifacts, and the differences and similarities between various roles.
With two weeks of Walking The Wall, more than a hundred Ideas, Holes and Questions (Contextual Design), 11 potential design solutions became prominent to our team.
5.Design Concepts and Testing
We used Cost-Benefit analysis to estimate the usefulness, financial and technical viability, implementation and training difficulty and maintenance effort of the 11 potential design solutions. We identified 4 potential designs that will best solve problems found through our research.
Three of our designs involve both hardware and software. Because in airplane manufacturing environment human factors is a big design element, we prototyped the hardware using just papers, cardboards and safety goggles to study the form factors. It’s fast, cheap and easy to find materials, and it suffices the purpose of studying how the physical device will fit into factory workers’ work flow.
6. Design Solution
Our final design solution is a mobile and desktop communication platform that supports close collaboration between workers on factory floor with multiple job roles. It will communicate with existing Boeing production management systems, pulls data from them and provides relevant task information like status, technical drawings and diagrams, documents and what not to workers based on their job role and task at hand. It also facilitate communication between job roles thanks to the customized UI for each job role.
Sorry we can't post any of the research and design details online in order to protect proprietary information about Boeing. But we have two great research and design books available for viewing upon request.