Many of our daily actions and tools require electricity, but oftentimes we do not realize that men and women are risking their lives to keep the power running. Behind the scenes, operators work on large, metal devices called switchgears that distribute electrical current to buildings. These switchgears handle fatal levels of electricity, which means that working with switchgears is a high-risk, high-stress job where one careless act could mean injury or death.

The scope of our project is to design the future of the switchgear-human interaction in the North American commercial sector, specifically in universities and hospitals. This project spans an 8-month period, starting with the research and synthesis phase from January to May 2014, and ending with the prototyping and testing phase from May 2014 to August 2014.


Eaton is a multi-billion dollar corporation who supplies power management solutions to customers worldwide. Today, power management and switchgears are crucial to running universities, hospitals, and almost every other business in the commercial and industrial sectors. Eaton strives to create solutions that maintain a high level of safety, reliability and efficiency for their customers. Hoping to not just meet customer's needs, but exceed them, Eaton wants to pioneer the future of switchgear interfaces.

To help meet this goal, Eaton has teamed up with us, team Lumin, to explore the future of the switchgear-human interface. Alongside Lumin, Eaton is looking to create a future where technology can be used to improve the safety, reliability, efficiency, and human experience of power management systems.


Switchgear are the backbone of the electrical system in any building. They are used to regulate the flow of electricity that comes in from the main power feed and to isolate parts of the electrical network. Switchgear contain a mix of electrical devices such as circuit breakers, fuses and switches. In buildings, Switchgear are large metal boxes generally housed in the building basement.

Depending on the voltage levels they serve, Switchgear are classified as Low Voltage, Medium Voltage and High Voltage Switchgear. Also, based on the mechanism used to break the circuit, Switchgear can be air blast, air break, oil, SF6 or vaccuum based Switchgear.


Tugrul Yuksel

Project Manager

Tugrul Yuksel is a Fulbright Scholar and a Master of Human-Computer Interaction candidate in Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds a MA in Digital Media from Goldsmiths College, University of London and BA in Visual Communication Design and Arts from Bahcesehir University. His work experience includes positions in Turkish media companies such as Digiturk and startups like Hype! app from London.

Lena Malkhasian

User Researcher

Lena recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's in Computer Science Engineering. She came to Carnegie Mellon's Human Computer Interaction Institute in hopes of learning how to give a voice to technology users worldwide. Lena loves smart uses of technology, and the seamless experiences that they can provide--such as the experience of having power and light in every building she walks into that Switchgears provide.

Christi Hagen

User Experience Designer

Before coming to Carnegie Mellon University for her Masters in Human-Computer Interaction, Christi graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in Computer Science. She is motivated by her desire to design technology solutions that center on humans, so that needs and wants can be met to improve and save lives. During this project, she enjoyed getting to crawl under buildings and seeing the massive pieces of equipment that keep our buildings bright and warm.

Rohan Singh

Interaction Designer

Rohan worked as a User Experience Designer for 2 years at a design consultancy before coming to Carnegie Mellon. His love for interaction design stems from his frustrating experiences interacting with technology. He is passionate about making technology more humane, empathetic and approachable for humans. He expects technology to just work and was fascinated to discover the effort and passion that go into maintaining a constant source of electricity.


Team Lumin went into the field and talked to experts at Eaton, personnel at 2 hospitals, 3 universities, and one museum, and several independent contractors. In total, we talked to 35 domain experts. We used 5 different research methods to gain facts and insights from their experiences.

Our domain research focused on the top 3 trends in the switchgear industry and the top 3 technologies that can be leveraged to improve human-switchgear interaction in the future. The switchgear trends include research into modularization, remote monitoring and arc flash management techniques that need to be accounted for while designing for the future. For the 3 emerging technologies, we researched robotics, augmented reality and wearable technologies.


After gathering information from the field, we came together to synthesize the data as a team. We turned all of the data from our numerous methods into one complete affinity diagram. We realized that the power industry is very people-driven, and thus created several cultural models.

Finally, because of the complexity and longevity of the relationship a customer creates with Eaton when they buy a switchgear, we created a customer journey map to understand the process and touchpoints more clearly. Through our synthesis, we gained a deeper understanding of our data and were then able to define the focus of our solution.


Based on our research, we created 3 visions for the future for switchgears. Each vision not only addresses core problems that we discovered during our research phase but also leverages emerging technology - technology that we believe will become more prevalent in the next 10 years. These visions are high level concepts that are meant to be used as springboards for further exploration and discussion.


We started the design phase after discussing our visions and findings with our clients at Eaton. Our design process was an iterative process, moving up to higher fidelity prototypes at each iteration based on feedback from user testing at each stage.



The design process is an iterative process of designing, prototyping and testing. At every stage of prototyping, we incorporated changes from the previous user testing session and created a higher fidelity prototype.

We completed five iterations to go from several different ideas to a focused concept. For each iteration, we sat down with at least 5 target users in commercial institutions. We aimed to test with 5 participants because according to the Nielson Norman Group, the industry-respected usability standards firm, user testing with at least 5 target users captures 85% of all usability problems.


We sketched several variations on a notification-based, remote monitoring and control system. By sketching on paper, we could quickly draw or erase features based on feedback from our user tests. We took these sketches to 5 commercial switchgear operators to learn what was valuable to them.


After making refinements from iteration 1, we digitized our design. We tested our ideas on iPads. We took our designs and questions about data sharing to 12 Valero engineers and Eaton switchgear operators in Houston, Texas.


We iterated on our designs to emphasize visual data from sensors. We also focused more on correcting confusing signals in our interface as well as trying to discover combinations of sensors to provide richer troubleshooting information. We took our prototype to 7 switchgear electricians and power managers at universities and hospitals.


We refined our prototype to high fidelity which included adhering to iOS 7 design guidelines. Based on feedback, we made the maps larger, navigation simpler, and the labels easier to understand. We created a use case from the previous rounds’ card sorting activity to demonstrate the benefits of our prototype. We tested this prototype with 5 participants from a university and a hospital.


In the final stage of our prototype, we worked on the clarity and accuracy of information presented. We focused on the sensors page and made sure that it was clear which sensor was related to the problem presented in the notification page. We also added PPE information. During our test with 5 hospital and university electricians and power managers, we asked again whether participants would be willing to share their with Eaton.