A Departure Sequencing Tool (DST) is a digital system that helps air traffic controllers to better plan and manage international and domestic departures at airports. Veryday was asked by Swedavia to design an innovative DST to be used at Arlanda, Stockholm's international airport and the main entry point into Sweden.
At Arlanda, the current way of working is old and still based on the metaphor of moving around and stacking paper labels (representing flights) on top of each other. It was time to change the way of working to make better use of available new technology, to create a truly user-friendly interaction design and a better situation awareness.
The goal was to create a system that enhances the air traffic controllers' precision in their predictions for takeoff time to Eurocontrol (the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation) allowing for tighter and safer traffic in areas with a dense flight schedule. We also found out we could help minimize the time flights have to spend waiting in queues with their engines running, before take off. This will save vast amounts of fuel each year, while at the same time improve the travelling experience for the passengers.
Our designers started to develop a new flight labeling system and visualized it through advanced wireframes, which were then tested based on importance, glanceability and frequency of use. As suspected, information is variously important at different points before takeoff. Various activities like card sorting was done to present and discuss pros and cons regarding different approaches to information organization and the graphic user interface. The layout was finally redesigned to create a better mental model of the departures. Our wireframes were coded and regularly tested by the air flight controllers, with simulated real-time data. Several collaborative workshops were held to establish a common understanding and to share ideas. This turned out to be vital to the process. Air traffic controllers must process large amounts of crucial information every day in order to guarantee safety for passengers and crew, so making changes in their routines must be done collaboratively and with everyone on-board.
Evaluations were also done on-site in the control tower to check readability, brightness, colors and how well the new user interface works with the current line up of screens. The preferences of our users changed dramatically when seeing the system on site rather than in our project room. The lesson learned: never underestimate on-site assessments!
"The DST is a huge improvement for our work, I just wish that all our applications worked and looked like this. We love it! What we also really appreciated was how you involved us during the entire process. Why don't all projects work like that?"
- Air traffic controller, Arlanda Airport
We ended up entirely re-inventing the mental model for how to perceive runways and upcoming flights. The new DST offers a dramatically better overview, a faster perception of the current situation and an easy way to make prognoses of the near future. The users can easily interact with the content; creating and moving flights, snow sweeping, maintenance slots and priorities. Everything is clearly labeled, but still subtle enough to meet the requirements in a dark control tower. Veryday's role in the project included user studies, interaction design, visual design and frontend development. Backend development was done by Ecru Consulting.
This project impressed us all. It appears to take complex data and interactions and streamline them into a simplified interface and interaction model that helps airline control personnel shave seconds off of each interaction.
The impact of this kind of effiency is cumulatively impressive over the course of a year.