Interface design in complex technological systems is a multi-disciplinary endeavour. In particular, the approach of EID derives from engineering design and psychology. The engineering design roots can be traced back to the researchers at Risø National laboratories in Denmark starting from the 1960s. The Risø laboratories were setup by the Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Currently, Risø Laboratories is a part of Technical University of Denmark and focuses on sustainable energy (DTU: https://www.dtu.dk/english/about/campuses/dtu-risoe-campus).
Since the 1960s, the electronic division of Risø was involved in ensuring technical reliability of electronic equipment related to nuclear research reactors. Over a period of time, the group started to recognize that ensuring technical reliability was not enough for the overall plant functioning. The human operator had to be taken together with the power plant to ensure overall plant functioning and reliability. In other words, the problem of technical reliability was reassessed as problem of human systems reliability. In the process of recognizing the role of the human, a necessary emphasis was placed on the design of displays. The key idea was that the human was system component and the technological system, the human’s environment. This is one of the most fundamental insights for understanding interaction design in complex technological systems. In addition, over a period of a few decades, human operators and their activities were studied and a variety of other insights were formulated about operator performance (for example, use of skills, rules and knowledge taxonomy of human performance for proper interface design). These insights as well as others led to the creation of several conceptual structures that designers could use for HMI design for complex technological systems. One such conceptual structure was the Abstraction Hierarchy (AH). This AH can be used by designers to elicit design requirements and form the basis in the design process (discussed in detail in the next section).
In the wake of Three Mile Island Accident in 1979, researchers started to recognize that interface design was of crucial importance to support the operators’ diagnosis of the mal-productive changes in the powerplant. Appropriate information through the interface and subsequent actions through the interface would enable them to bring back the power plant to a normal state of functioning. During the decade of 1980s and beyond, there was a growth in a “human-centred” outlook for technological design. Towards the end of 1980s and early 1990s, the ideas from the Risø group, specifically the ones put forward by Jens Rasmussen, were coalesced in a series of publications providing the basis of HMI foundation for EID (example: Rasmussen, 1986; Rasmussen, Pjetersen and Goodstein, 1994). This work was built upon Jens Rasmussen’s existing work in the past decades at Risø.
The EID approach was further developed by a number of researchers in the 1990s and beyond in areas such as HMI design for pasteurizers, petrochemicals, healthcare, military command and control, among many areas (Vicente, 2002;Vicente & Rasmussen, 1992). A more broader history of EID and Risø approach can be found in a number of articles and are provided in the Bibliography and Further Reading section. In the next section, we will take a step-by-step approach beginning from requirements gathering towards developing graphic forms for HMI.