My bad? Don’t jump to conclusions

01 Jun 2020 The Navigator

Margareta Holtensdotter Lützhöft, a master mariner and an expert in Human Centred Design, discusses the importance of speaking up in the face of technology that is not quite ‘fit for purpose’

About the Author
Margareta is a professor in the Department of Maritime Studies at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. She has a particular interest in the Maritime Safety Research programme.

Have you made a mistake today?
Did you think to yourself, ‘That was my fault, I made an error’…? Perhaps you kept pressing the wrong button on an instrument, or you struggled with a certain checklist or procedure? Do you inwardly curse at the screen when you cannot find the information you need? All these situations are symptoms of something far greater. Granted, humans make mistakes; we already know that. We have known it for a long time – and we are still using terms like ‘human error’ and trying to train seafarers to stop doing it.

Do you think it has worked? Is it time for a new perspective and a new approach? Why do we simply accept bad design and dysfunctional procedures that make it easy to make mistakes? One answer is ‘professional pride’. Most seafarers are problem solvers at heart and revel in getting things to work, perhaps by designing solutions or workarounds. Another answer is that there seems to be no one to tell. Or if there is someone, they don’t listen.

What if…?
What if, the next time you try to use something that fights back, you think, ‘How could this have been done better?’ Was it really your mistake that was the problem, or could the piece of equipment that you were using have been designed to better support the way we work and think? Be critical and constructive when considering changes to the technology you are using, but don’t be negative.

Next time you are involved in a navigation assessment, for example, consider each of the procedures. Are there any stages that do not match the way you work, or that are not compatible with the ship you are working on? If so, let the company know what you think could be improved and how.

Are there aspects of your ship’s system that are not adequately covered by company training or familiarisation? If so, don’t just shrug and pass it off as, ‘somebody else’s problem’. Let someone know, the Master or the company.

Never assume
When you work with a technical system and its range of electronics, don’t just assume that you are undertrained or inexperienced if you come up against problems. These systems, tools and aids are something that can and should work with you.

Consider what could be changed to support you and your colleagues. Seafarers can influence change if they can get their message through to the right people. Not sure the company will listen? Let The Nautical Institute know, by getting in touch via The Navigator. We will try our hardest to get your feedback and suggestions to the right manufacturer or standards body.

​It is very common for bridge and engine control room electronics to be designed without any input from a seafarer, or indeed anyone who has been on a ship. Your involvement could drive changes to ensure that technology works in concert with the seafarers and is fit for purpose, namely, the work being performed on board ship.

Unless somebody does it, nobody does it
Does it really matter if you provide feedback or not? Small design changes can have huge implications for the future of technology on board, especially if they are included early on. Think of all the solutions and innovations that exist ‘out there’ in the wider world. How can we get to know about them and put them to good use in our industry?

There are many examples of amazing design that has been adapted to human needs in different ways. A prime maritime example is the Nacos Platinum integrated bridge control system. This was developed with a user-centred design approach that evolved over a two-year period. It addressed a multitude of user issues, such as making charts easier to use, and standardising views and modes. A cross-disciplinary team was engaged from conception right through to implementation, and, crucially, seafarers were involved in the iterative testing throughout. Results speak for themselves.

So, in conclusion, yes, errors in technology design do matter. No, it is not always your fault. Speak up and share your opinions with the ‘powers that be’ on how to improve the equipment you are using every day. Start today by contacting The Nautical Institute with your thoughts and ideas