News Article 27/11/2006

Making software more user-friendly - an abstract (Digital Ship, November 2006, p.20)

 

Panteleimon Pantelis, services director, Ulysses Systems, spoke about his company's approach to making software more user-friendly.
"One of the best ideas to follow is the ''walk up and use'' principle, he told us. "A kid can walk up to a bike and know how the handlebars work without being trained. We need to be looking at that kind of usability."
"For ''walk up and use'' the interface should be as much the same as possible for different tasks. The master has lots of things to think about, and they require logic, not just checklists. IT can make it easier to find information without preoccupying the users. But the IT has to be easy to use because you have to be able to do it under stress."
Mr. Pantelis believes that usability is directly connected to the amount of effort needed for a crew member to perform their required tasks.
"The less effort you have to put in, the better the software," he said. "For example, Amazon.com has a patent on single-click purchases. All other sites you have to go through the "are you sure you want to buy this?" routine, and so on. And Amazon is the most successful. If it's easy to use, it encourages use."
"And you can't base it on one user;you might find that you have a computer nerd user who's giving you the requirements. You need to get the average user's requirements."
Organizing information is another key area that will have an effect on how easy it is to operate a system.
"Information needs to be presented at the appropriate time," said Mr. Pantelis. "We all get e-mails that are marked important, but which are the ones that are important for the next 5 minutes? Don't assume that the user knows where their information is."
"You wouldn't allow a filing room to be unorganized, but the information is all unorganized on computers."
"Risk management is to do with conflicting goals," he added. "The better the communications process, the less risk you will have. The better information you have, the better your decisions."
Training, and the costs associated with it, must also be considered as a vital part of the system, said Mr. Pantelis.
"Training is a big issue, the crews are not trained to use the engines, let alone the software used to check the engines," he told us.
"The customer doesn't understand the life cycle cost. But in aviation Airbus have done better than Boeing because they put the same cockpit on every plane, which reduced training costs."