Horizon Project for Schlumberger
Timeline: 2003 – 2005
My Role: Lead role in UI design (and re-design) tasks, in addition to performing and facilitating usability evaluations.
The Horizon Project was set up to create a single software application for all of Schlumberger’s oil field engineers to carry out their work.
It’s no surprise that oil field engineers work in very stressful and dangerous conditions.
Compounding this stress and danger is the fatigue caused by shiftwork, fatigue that seriously impairs their capacity to process information and make decisions. As a result, user-centered design was key to this project.
The Horizon Project was my first real introduction to a formal usability process, a real eye opener and deep dive into software usability. I have worked on many other projects since, but I will always remember the field engineers and how hard their job is.
Know the Users
There were two oil field engineers working full time on our design team, each representing a primary target user.
In addition, a team of remotely located field engineers, as end user representatives, would perform the actual evaluations of usability related artifacts (use cases, UI designs, etc.), visiting us in person at regular intervals to take part in Brainstorming Sessions, Think Aloud Performance Studies and Cognitive Walkthroughs.
Test the Usability
We selected the following evaluation methods that according to a 2000 ACM study of human factors practitioners and a corroborating 2001 Schlumberger study, represented the best practices.
Health and Safety representatives also reviewed and signed off all UI designs for compliance to Schlumberger’s Health and Safety policies.
We reviewed UI designs against established design principles and recorded the findings in the following Excel spreadsheet…
We would have visiting field engineer representatives construct task scenarios from a specification or early prototype and then role play the part of a user “walking through” the interface as if the interface was actually built, scrutinizing each step.
Think Aloud Performance Studies
If we had enough visiting field engineer representatives we would give them a scenario to individually work through, recording their running commentary of thoughts, feelings, opinions and actions.
Results of evaluations would be entered into Schlumberger’s proprietary central tracking system, SWIFT and be fed into the next iteration of the design. Results would be broken down into three distinct categories, Good Points, Problems and Common Issues.
Some of the Designs
There we so many design ideas that came out of that project, but here are just a few.
Whole dashboard UI to help field engineers build up the tools ready for the next job.
Shapes to differentiate the two types of drilling information.
Numerical Data Gauges
Different backgrounds for user customization. Warnings highlighted with bold black text on yellow. Errors highlighted with bold white text on red.
Different visual cues to indicate when the perforation tool is outside, entering and at the correct location.
Rather than a wizard we came up with the concept of a “task” where tasks can be performed in series like a wizard for novice users who need guidance, or performed individually as unique operations for experienced users who need flexibility.