AF CyberWorx is focusing on Human-Centered Design for the month of October. It’s the secret ingredient of all that we undertake and can be an extremely valuable addition to most processes. Please follow us on social media to gain more insight into the value of Human-Centered Design and enjoy this week’s blog post by our lead UX/UI designer, Mr. Larry Marine!


A recurring sprinkler control problem for large spaces (parks, ball fields, etc.) involves adjusting the sprinkler schedule to accommodate special events. A 3-day baseball tournament requires more than just shutting off the water for 3 days. Watering at night makes the field soft and susceptible to damage, so that’s not an option, either.

A more successful approach involves a complex schedule of watering more than usual for 2 days prior to the event, sprinkling only a few minutes each night of the tournament, then watering heavily again after the tournament. Existing solutions require users to manually change the watering schedule each day in the complex irrigation control UI, which almost always results in a user error.

A knowledge-based approach would be to provide different watering templates for various types of events that could be invoked by the users. For instance, the user might merely indicate that a 3-day tournament will occur on such-and-such dates and then the system would automatically adjust the watering cycles before, during, and after the tournament, returning to the standard settings after the event. Moreover, the templates could be based on best practices gleaned from other users with similar field composition and irrigation equipment.

By providing a design that asks the user to indicate the event and the dates, we can provide cues that focus on the knowledge we can expect users to actually have. So rather than a complex set of features, the user only needs to select the event and the dates, and the system does the rest of the work.

As technology becomes ever more complex and pervasive, we cannot expect users to understand how to use every device with complete expertise. They may be familiar with some devices, but not all. Therefore, we must design device interfaces so that users can use them without having expertise for that device.

A common approach to UI design is to provide a cornucopia of features and expecting users to know which features to use and when to use them. Unfortunately, this is a failed premise evidenced by the frequency of user errors. This is even more true when users are distracted by other factors such as state of mind and physical limitations. For instance, a person can’t be expected to attend to a complex device with patience and clarity when faced with a panic situation or if they are temporarily impaired.

Beyond simple UX Design, knowledge design builds knowledge into a design to help the average user bridge existing levels of skill and knowledge to be more successful. The key is to identify the knowledge users need in order to succeed and finding ways to embed that knowledge into a design.

Successful techniques for designing knowledge into a UI include designing best practice approaches into the product, creating task-oriented designs, providing templates and intelligent defaults. These techniques require that the designer have enough in-depth knowledge of the domain such that they can provide salient cues for the users.

CyberWorx uses techniques specifically focused on identifying knowledge design opportunities within a problem domain. We would be happy to discuss these techniques with your team. Just ask.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

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