Photos and text by Dr. Kjetil Nordby (Institute of Design - The Oslo School of Architecture and Design)Lack of standard user interfaces across bridge equipment is a major concern for maritime safety. Pilots are in a unique position, as they are constantly exposed to new and differing bridge working environments, equipment, interface designs and combinations of systems. As pilots face this problem throughout every shift they need to put in considerable effort to adjust their work to the many user interfaces they meet.
One of the reasons for the lack of consistency problem is that current bridges on ships are often made up of a large number of systems delivered by multiple suppliers. This has led to cluttered, inconsistent workplaces that has shown to contribute to increased cognitive demands during operations which has led to human error and accidents. The problem of inconsistent console and use interface design is well known in maritime industry, but it has been difficult to solve the problem within current regulatory frameworks and typical maritime equipment development practices.
The OpenBridge concept
OpenBridge approaches this problem by applying an open innovation processes in an ongoing collaboration between governance-industry-academia stakeholders. A central component in this work is to create a maritime design system adapted to maritime use situations, modern design principles, new implementation strategies and regulations.
In short, the OpenBridge focuses on creating open source tools and guidelines that result in modern and usable user interfaces and reduced development cost. Our goal is to realize:
The idea behind OpenBridge is that in many companies have products that need to work together with other products in a bridge and ship ecosystem. One major obstacle for harmonizing such equipment is a lack of a common design standard suitably adapted for modern digital user interfaces.Furthermore,development of such user interfaces are very expensive and resource intensive. One way of reducing development costs is to share development resources, such as user interface components. Thus, OpenBridge lays out a set of standard building blocks for maritime user interfaces that streamline development of generic functionality. This allows each product owner to focus on their core product offering instead of how to deliver their own version of standard user interface functionality, such as toggle buttons and navigation menus.
Cross industry conformity of user interfaces has been a trend in many industries for many years. Although companies maintain their own palettes and logos, we see strong design patterns and formats are essentially standardized in mobile applications and business software. We argue that it is even more important to have common baseline design patterns in the maritime domain, since many of the systems are used in parallel and they are safety critical. We cannot afford to confuse users with the basic user interface design issues when solutions are readily available and only need to be implemented properly.
Strong industry interest
The OpenBridge development is driven by a large consortium consisting of 27 actors from industry, academia and regulatory authorities. It is developed through an iterative process where design guidelines are developed and tested in practice in conjunction with industry development and evaluated continually by experts and end users.
Currently, we have released the first version of a guideline together with development tools meant to accelerate development. The first OpenBridge products are now beginning to be installed on ships and there are many companies within our project consortium now evaluating or working on OpenBridge solutions. We are seeing a strong interest from industry, particularly end users, ship owners and equipment manufacturers are interested in a more open approach to maritime workplace and equipment development. Since we launched the OpenBridge design guideline in March 2020 over 250 companies have registered for access to it.
We do not know whether OpenBridge will be widely applied, but given the current interest, we are hopeful that the system will be a valuable resource for the maritime world that can lead to safer, more efficient workplaces. The value of OpenBridge increases with the number of companies adapting it and contributes to its further development. We encourage everybody to visit www.openbridge.no explore our design guideline and help contribute to open innovation and development.