Secondary Research

Methods And Processes

To ensure that our ultimate design addresses the complex problem of procedure execution and users’ true needs and desires, we gathered data to discover these criteria and guide the design process. Owing to the difficulty in obtaining time with astronauts, much of our research focused on studying analogous domains in which complex procedures are regularly executed. Our field research included observation at Johnson Space Center, three contextual inquiries in analogous domains, five semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, and a few brief conversations with former crewmembers. To familiarize ourselves with academic research on pertinent high-level concepts, we conducted a literature review. Additionally, a series of competitive analyses—specifically focused on enterprise-level coordination tools and checklist iPad applications— investigated existing software products and trends that can aid in procedure execution.

Literature Review

In order to better inform our understanding of the problem space, we performed an academic literature review. We initially chose about a dozen relevant topics to survey before settling on a few especially salient themes. We decided to explore the following hypotheses in depth:

  • Successful combination of disparate systems can benefit information retrieval
  • Social codependency negatively affects team communication
  • Contextual checklist systems can support efficiency of task execution
  • Cognitive load limits may be flexible depending on context

We found support in the literature for all of our initial hypotheses, and we also discovered questions that informed our field research plans across our analogous domains. In turn, these findings have guided our design recommendations for improved performance in procedure execution.

Competitive Analysis

We began our competitive analysis by reviewing several enterprise project management solutions. While these applications were important sources of information on large scale planning, they did not have specific capabilities to address the needs of in-context task execution and step-by-step procedures. We then shifted our focus to examining iPad applications.

We chose personal to-do applications to understand the constraints of information presentation and navigation on mobile devices. The creation of a feature matrix helped aid the selection of applications to examine in-depth. We evaluated their ease of use, feature-set, and overall design. In our evaluation we identified several important features: hierarchy, information granularity, quick note taking, and prioritization. iPad App

Primary Research

Field Research


Our field research began with a three-day visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, we spoke with flight-planners involved in making sure schedules and procedures are executed efficiently, as well as engineers working on the next-generation environments where our product may be used.

Guerilla Interviews

During our research period, we were fortunate to have opportunities to speak with two astronauts about their experiences in space, albeit briefly in one instance. One had recently returned from ISS and was giving an outreach talk, while the other was retired and serves on the faculty of a university.


We conducted semi-structured interviews with two aquanauts who have previously served on NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) missions; they also have knowledge of and have otherwise supported NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS), the Flashline Mars Research Station at Devon Island, and the Pavilion Lake Research Project missions. In general, both noted a tension at NASA between an engineering-centered culture, where everything that is flown on a mission is optimally designed for performance and efficiency, and a user-centered culture, where technical efficiency might take a backseat to usability or friendliness.

Analogous Domains

Critical issues emerged from our research into human spaceflight that are common with many other domains— inventory management, complex communication, and authority tension, to name a few. Identifying domains facing as many of these issues as possible, we set out to discover their individual solutions, seeking insights transferable to problems faced in space. We ideated several research foci to investigate, and began to brainstorm analogous domains in which we could observe work in context.

  • We observed the following analogous domains:
  • Automotive repair
  • Construction
  • Stage management
  • Surgery

Here we present an abstracted model of procedure execution in space. In researching analogous domains, we carefully considered how the roles and systems within those domains mapped to those of the model. This mapping guided our research approach for contextual inquiries and interviews. Model



Guided by the principles of human-centered design, our goal is to design systems which appropriately address the complexities of human behavior and psychology. Drawing inspiration from the Cupola on ISS, the huge window that serves little utilitarian function but has an incalculable impact on crewmember morale, the analysis of our findings strives to always keep the user’s needs at the forefront of our considerations.


In high-pressure operations, staff must provide assertive direction and moral support

  • There is a great deal of stress placed on those executing tasks
  • Professional respect can make appropriate criticism difficult
  • Moral support eases tension in high stress roles

Future missions must account for intermittent ground–crewmember communication

  • The current system requires scheduling around communication lapses
  • During long communication delays, conversations likely shift from voice to text
  • Users more frequently switch tasks during a communication delay while they wait on responses to inquiries

Inventory management issues can delay procedure execution

  • Problems with physical tool-finding can delay procedure execution
  • Crewmembers deal with a cumbersome process to look up needed tools
  • There is variable compliance by crewmembers in updating stowage data

Individual crewmembers read and understand procedures at varying degrees of granularity

  • Crewmembers cannot be expected to know how to do everything; they need procedures
  • Procedure execution gets easier with practice


The previous considerations helped us understand our problem constraints. In this subsection, we present the insights from our research synthesis that will guide our design moving forward.

Critical contextual information is obscured by items of less immediate concern

  • Users are given a long-scale schedule to execute tasks, which hides more immediate information
  • Executors struggle to see what they need to see most during procedures


  • Reimagine how schedule viewing integrates with procedures, prioritizing immediately relevant information
  • Create a visual hierarchy of importance while viewing procedure data

Methods that encourage memory recall can support consistent procedure execution

  • Notetaking aids in consistency of execution when tasks are executed again
  • Pre-task inventory management helps minimize surprises during execution
  • Multimodal contextual feedback can minimize procedure execution errors


  • Integrate notetaking into procedure and schedule viewing
  • Allow crewmembers to simultaneously see procedure notes and physical/visual cues

Existing procedure support systems do not prioritize users’ most pressing needs

  • Current systems make procedure progress reporting unnecessarily difficult
  • Crewmember needs and technology change faster than system changes have been implemented


  • Passively collect data during software use and task execution to help improve both the system and procedures
  • Provide a simpler means for crewmembers to report procedure feedback

Instructive systems should not make superfluous demands on users’ cognitive load

  • Overly-specific procedure descriptions contribute to cognitive overload
  • Shared resources and customization increase uncertainty during operations


  • Use visual hierarchy within procedures to communicate information needs
  • Make switching between users as simple as switching between tasks