January 25, 2022

Building our User Interface – A combination of solid research, hard work, and human-centered design

AQ is a design, research, and development company working with Groke Technologies to bring their Situational Awareness System to market. We spoke to AQ co-founder Eiko Nagase and User Experience (UX) Lead Emily Loeb about how they are working with Groke to create a user interface (UI) that provides maritime crews with all the information they need to safely navigate the seas.

The primary UI that AQ has been working on is the version due to be used with the AS Pro. Loeb explained how the UI works.

“The AS Pro takes all the detections that the sensor fusion system brings in from different inputs, such as radar, AIS…and the camera view, and turns it into information that helps the crew make better, more situationally aware decisions,” Loeb said.

AQ’s research revealed that a ship’s position – e.g. open sea versus in harbor – affects how the crew thinks about their surroundings during maneuvers, so they decided to offer different UI profiles tailored to match the current positional situation. Research like that is what makes AQ’s work so important – without it, Groke wouldn’t know what information ship crews are looking for.

“The first (step) was foundational research, which is what we do before designing the actual product,” Nagase explained. “We visited ships and met captains and crews. We had conversations, conducted interviews, and simply observed what they were doing on the bridge. We stayed aboard overnight, and watched what they were doing at night, and watched how…they were communicating, what kind of information they were exchanging.”

Picture 1 – AQ researchers on the bridge of one of the vessels while coming into port. (image courtesy of AQ)

After working with numerous experts to harness their data effectively, AQ created a proof-of-concept system and presented it to crews to learn what worked well and what needed improvement. The research didn’t end there, however, as AQ continues to interact with crews to obtain feedback.

AQ’s constant efforts to evolve and refine the UI have resulted in a system that is beyond anything else on the market. That being said, it has not been an easy road.

“From a design perspective, we want to create something that is future proof, platform agnostic, and has a high level of accuracy, accessibility, and legibility. It is a hard balance to strike because of the bridge environment – it’s very dark at nighttime and then very bright during the day,” Loeb explained. “One of the other big challenges is working with the sensor fusion system. It’s very complex. It’s important to get this right so that what we are showing in the UI is what the users need.”

Loeb told us that the people at AQ are enthusiastic about the work they are doing with Groke.

“I think all of us at AQ are excited to make people’s lives better,” Loeb said. “Those are the products we love working on. They help us feel like we’re doing good for the world.”

Nagase added to that by offering her own perspective as a researcher.

“We could speak with crews and captains often, over a long period. It started from foundational research, and then once we started making the prototypes, it was every two months. We show them the prototype, collect information on what they think, and then bring those ideas back to improve the prototype. It takes a lot of effort. Being able to do that – collecting their perspectives as captains and crews, then bringing those perspectives into the project – is great,” she said.  

Picture 2 – User journey maps play critical role in research work and help system developers to understand what actually happens onboard during different phases of voyage (image courtesy of AQ)

Towards the end of the interview, Nagase mentioned another thing about working with Groke that is exciting for her, and it is notable because it seems to be a recurring theme among the interviews we have conducted so far.

“We’re building this product with them,” she said. “Not for them.”

And that highlights another thing that sets Groke Technologies apart – they seem to work hard to ensure that all of their partners – from university professors to UX researchers – feel like they are part of the same team, a team whose goal is to make the seas safer for all.

Article published originally in Groke’s exclusive customer newsletter in July 2021