From Operation Theater to Refinery: design philosophy is critical

In the recent post about design philosophy I had discussed the design challenge of revamping a medical product requiring a user interface which would let the operating theater staff to focus the medical procedure underway rather than fumbling around the instrument’s screen for getting things done. So we had narrowed down to the need for a context-restricted navigation kind of philosophy.

From surgeon’s operating theater to a large control room of a refinery

Here is another example: Now we must move away from the operating theater and step into a control room of a petroleum refinery. A typical control room houses over 60-70 control room engineers who use their desktop consoles to ‘see’ and ‘control’ refinery’s equipment. Each operator is glued to his console screen focusing on a small section of the huge plant allotted to him.


While this specialization is necessary, the operators are less aware of the plant’s overall status and technical conditions which might need attention in their respective areas. What is at stake is safety. Therefore, the management of the refinery came up with the requirement of improving situational awareness of the operators.

The design challenge here was to conceive ways of displaying refinery’s complex technical and operational data live for bringing out critical conditions which are imminent and without without distracting them from their respective core tasks. We met this design challenge by developing a display design philosophy which conceived visual representation of complex, multi-parameter conditions in cognitively efficient way, defining a color palette tolerant to ‘permitted’ types of color blindness, fonts and their sizes, and ways of notifying critical conditions. The control room was equipped with eight video walls each of 8 meter width and 4 meter height displaying live infographics. All that any operator would need to do was to glance up at the video wall of his section and know all that is important happening around his area.

Our client and we had to stay course with this design philosophy for the success of this very large and critical project.

Whether it is an operating theater or a large control room, whether it is a small touch screen or a huge video wall; a sound design philosophy must be developed. This needs intersection of domain expertise, process engineering, and visual communications.

As a I said before, a designer must live in all of them.

Article written by Hemant Karandikar. Visit his Linkedin Profile

Brand strategy, Communications, and User Interface Design

Design Directions Pvt. Ltd