A Carnegie Mellon capstone project with The Boeing Company

About the Project

Inspired by Boeing’s tradition of innovation, we aim to provide valuable insights and useful opportunities for innovating communication methods in assembly.

The employees at Boeing factories take great pride in their work, which requires tremendous care and craftsmanship. However, miscommunication and gaps in information often prevent employees from doing the quality of work they are capable of. We are exploring opportunities to close those gaps at the Boeing Renton factory.

Our mission: to foster craftsmanship by streamlining communication at the
Boeing Renton factory

Our Research Process

Immersing ourselves in the Renton factory floor environment was fundamental to gaining a rich, first-hand understanding of the employees’ experiences and needs.

We began our research by forming a domain understanding of assembly. This knowledge included manufacturing processes, work practices, and communication methods both at Boeing and in analogous domains.

As a team, we spent 90 hours interviewing Boeing subject matter experts and 47 participants spanning 11 roles on the factory floor. We also spent 10 hours interviewing 6 subject matter experts in analogous domains in Pittsburgh.

Research Participant Demographics



Subject Matter Experts at Boeing


Pit Bosses

Water Striders

As well as 7 other participants spanning 6 job roles.

We followed the contextual inquiry process to learn about the workflow and challenges of the factory employees. With permission, we observed factory employees as they completed tasks, and we probed with questions about their thought processes in the context of their jobs. In cases where contextual inquiry was considered invasive or inappropriate, we asked employees to verbalize their internal thought process for longer durations without prompting them with questions.

Research Summary


Boeing Factory Employees

Field Data Points

Local Studies

Literature Sources

Design Ideas

To supplement our field studies, we conducted local studies with domain experts in analogous domains, such as auto repair and health care. Although aircraft manufacturing is a unique process, it still has many aspects that are in common with other manufacturing industries, especially in the ways that employees communicate and collaborate.

Data Analysis

We have used the findings from our time at the Renton factory to generate key insights and opportunities. These, in turn, address pain points in factory workflow.

We made an affinity diagram to analyze and synthesize the 850 data points from our two factory visits. Affinity diagramming helped us organize the data by identifying patterns. Through this data synthesis, we discovered more than 100 different patterns categorized under 12 themes.

After an affinity analysis of all the data, we used node-and-link style mind mapping to capture cause-and-effect relationships among different workflow breakdowns. Iteratively asking the 5 whys helped us identify potential causes that led to delays and mistakes in the factory.

We created flow models for 7 different participant roles. Flow models helped us visualize how information flows through people, systems, and artifacts in the Renton factory. It also revealed breakdowns when the information did not flow as expected.

Our Design Process

We followed an iterative cycle of research, design, and evaluation to develop meaningful solutions for Boeing factory employees.

In the summer 2014 semester, we collaborated with Boeing employees to create visions that would guide our design process. Boeing employees provided valuable feedback throughout 5 stages of iterative design and evaluation cycles and helped us narrow our design choices to a single final prototype.

We retrieved feedback about initial design concepts by presenting them in the form of storyboards. This allowed us to explore use-case scenarios in rapid succession to learn about user’s needs and eliminate concepts that would be considered inappropriate for the users’ work.

We then visited the Boeing Renton factory in June and July to test our design choices with Boeing employees and further refine our prototypes. From low-fidelity to high-fidelity prototypes, we gradually narrowed our scope of design choices by iteratively testing design concepts and product features until only a single product remained.

Design Iteration Participant Demographics

Subject Matter Experts at Boeing




Pit Boss

Water Strider

As well as 4 other participants spanning 4 job roles at Boeing, and 14 subject matter experts in analogous domains.


During the summer of 2014, we iteratively tested and built a prototype system for Boeing, based on the needs we discovered during our research phase.

We created Echo, a mobile-desktop platform that streamlines remote communication at the Renton factory. We estimate that our solution could save Boeing millions of dollars every year at Renton from the reduction of flow time and rework. Echo could also be useful at other Boeing factories across the country, further increasing the savings to Boeing.

Due to the confidential nature of this project, we cannot share our prototype.

About Team Sora

Emily Danchik

Tech Lead

Emily comes from a development background, with experience in natural language processing, web development, and educational applications. She holds bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Linguistics from the University of Rochester in Upstate New York.
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Scott Chiu

Design Lead

Scott is a visual designer with experience in producing illustrations, digital print work, graphic web elements, and marketing deliverables for numerous companies. He holds a bachelor's in Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts from the University of California, San Diego.
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Matthew Hong

Research Lead

Matthew is a researcher in the field of Cognitive Science and Human Computer Interaction. For the past two years he has provided UX consulting services for two startup companies. He holds a bachelor's in Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego.
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Chris Wang

UX Lead

Chris is an interaction designer who is passionate about design principles and best practices that make technology useful, usable, and enjoyable to use. His coursework includes mobile service innovation, prototyping user interface human factors, information architecture, interaction techniques, data mining, and information systems.
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Fonda Chen

Team Lead

Fonda received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Silicon Valley and working for two venture-backed web and mobile startups. In her last project, she led the product integration with a major financial services corporation from initial design process and prototypes through launch.
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About The MHCI Capstone

The capstone project is a unique opportunity for our masters students and the companies that sponsor them. Many students choose Carnegie Mellon's Masters in Human-Computer Interaction (MHCI) program on the basis of the excellent experience the capstone project provides.

The project curriculum is structured to cover the end-to-end process of a research and development product cycle, while working closely with an industry sponsor on improvements, modifications or new applications to their existing human-to-machine technology. The goal of this 32-week course is for students to apply all the skills obtained from the program to a project that is reflective of an actual experience in a research, design, and development setting.

Please contact Jason Hong with any questions regarding the CMU MHCI capstone project.