I recently completed an industrial design project. Sadly, I ignored or dismissed a very important step in any design project – prototyping.
The project was a new instrument panel for a tandem seat aircraft. (Readers may recognize this as a redux of a similar project 2 years ago.)
The panel cutting was done by a third party so the process began with a sketch by me. I then generated a high fidelity mockup from the sketch. It took about a week of "an hour here and an hour there" until I had a a mockup which I really liked.
The fabricator then worked with me on several iterations to create a CAD drawing of the new panel. Version #6 was the final drawing. I signed off on it and the panel was cut and shipped. During the iterations we addressed various physical requirements such as the width and height of the actual switches and breakers, the mounting bezels for the GPS and screens, etc.
Once the panel and all of the equipment was in my shop, I settled down to the task of wiring. This started by temporarily installing all of the equipment into the panel and then working from the back side to deal with all of the audio wiring, data & communications, and then all of the power connections.
After the basic system tests were completed, I disassembled everything and took the panel to the pain shop for base coat, labeling, and then clear coat finish (with a flattening agent to reduce reflections). I was very happy with the results.
I reassembled everything and then installed the new panel along with some new components in various locations in the airframe in support of the new panel.
All of the basic tests passed. The new panel was ready for flight testing, calibration, and training.
The first test flight exposed a fundamental user experience error. Do you see it in the last picture ?
Here is what happened …
- My sketch was done on paper.
- My high fidelity mockup was done on the computer screen.
- The layout and labeling was done on the cut panel.
- Initial testing was done on the bench
All of these were looking either on a flat representation or looking strait ahead at the panel.
When you sit in the airplane, the pilot’s eyes are approximately 20" from the panel and the pilot’s sight line is level 10" above the center of the panel. The pilot is looking down between 20 and 30 degrees at the panel. As you can see in the final picture, a portion of the labels are obscured because the center display’s bezel is 9/16" deep at the bottom.
A physical mockup would have detected the viewing angle and the label position could have been adjusted.