Next-Generation Cockpit
• Role: UX Design Specialist
• Company: Airbus - Cockpit Research & Tech
• Year: 2018 - present
THE Context
Pilot shortage and digitalization
The commercial airline industry is facing an upcoming pilot shortage. The path to a pilot career is clogged by high cost of training and a steep learning curve. (Edit: pilot shortage remains true despite the COVID-19 crisis impact on traveling.)
In parallel, aviation apps available on consumer-grade tablets and leveraging consumer-grade interaction design have been widely adopted and are used in-flight by current pilots. To add to this trend, the coming generations to enter service are the so-called digital natives. They are used to the aforementioned digital interaction, an ease of use the legacy cockpit is unable to provide.
To answer these issues, leveraging achievements in autonomous flight technology that reduce pilot workload, Airbus is exploring ways to evolve further the legacy knobs and switches cockpit to a streamlined digital HMI.
The research program aims at easing pilot workload and explores new cockpit layout with touchscreens. 
Specifically, on the UX Design aspect, the goal is to enhance Human/Machine interaction using adopted gestures from consumer apps and video games. 

SpaceX Crew Dragon's cockpit HMI is a perfect example of what we aim for.

Following the double diamond design process, we work in scaled Agile framework (SaFe), split in several multidisciplinary teams working on specific features and flight operation topics. The design is synched by transversal teams and validated by internal Airbus experts and test-pilots.

My role AS UX Design specialist
Next-Gen cockpit
Responsible and accountable on the Approach and Landing phase design: 
Setting and running co-design workshops involving Flight Operations and Human Factor engineers. Providing interaction design propositions based on needs surfaced during discovery and co-design workshops. Producing prototypes for pre-implementation design validation.

Transversal UX consulting/supporting across all phases and features teams:
Providing usability heuristics expertise and interaction design best-practices. Ensuring the design is consistent through and through.

Also providing:
Interaction Design voice on cockpit philosophy and CONOPS, individual contribution for the simulator controller HMI design, UI-sound creative direction.
At cockpit research department level
• Involvement in defining Airbus Cockpit R&T UCD strategy
• UX evangelisation

That's me (dark blue shirt) running a co-design workshop with senior engineers on another Airbus project. Any work photos of the actual next-gen cockpit are classified.

My work on the HMI's information architecture and interaction design is classified. You could nonetheless get an idea of the design with this declassified picture showing a dated version of the life-sized cockpit mockup (see DISCO on Airbus’ corporate website). As you see, the pilots will sit in front of three displays in the middle of the cockpit.
2. UI DESIGN (usability and accessibility)
Part of my role in the transversal team involves defining the visual aspect of the interface. My proposition maintained the grey colour scheme of the previous version (as seen in the picture above). 

I brought however two drastic changes:
• I introduced subtle elevations to move away from the absolutely flat-design style. This helps differentiating the various groups of information at a glance. 
• I pushed for darker greys along bolder highlight colours. This is to create more contrast between the background and key informations. 
I also introduced subtle visual effects like glows to simulate the legacy cockpit’s buttons illuminated on/off states. Again, the flat design style created ambiguity on this crucial aspect of the UI usability.

• Key slides of the proposed mood board presentation:
• You can view the entire visual research done for this mood in this Miro board ✨


Mission-Critical Interface and Enterprise UX (eUX) are categories of products design I didn’t explore before. As always, the goal is about erasing frictions, preventing errors, ensuring clear feedback and affordance. What changes from consumer products and video-games is the total emphasis on the functional aspect. 
Pilots don’t need to romanticise their experience like sports car drivers. They don’t need to feel immersed like gamers either. They have no time for that, they are already living the dream, they are already in a real life adventure, they want efficiency. 
Also, pilots are end-users but they don't chose and purchase their own plane. The cockpit is a workplace. Pilots want an informative and perfectly usable interface first before any aesthetics. This goes to remind that, after all, the K.I.S.S. Principle so popular among the design community was coined by Kelly Johnson, an aeronautical engineer.
To be continued...
Thanks for reading!
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