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No sustainabilty without human-centered design

05 November 2018

It is not enough to focus on reduced emissions. In order to be sustainable, shipping should work as systematically with human-centered design (HCD) to develop ships and vessel systems. This states a PhD thesis presented by Nicole Costa at Mechanics and Maritime Sciences at Chalmers.

“Sustainability is not only referring to the environment or to economics; it is also about social sustainability. The people who work in this industry need things to be fit to their needs. And the domain is changing due to the current technological transition, which makes it all the more important to consider Human-centred design”, says Nicole Costa, who defended her thesis “Human-centred design for maritime technology and organizational change” on September 6th.

She describes the shipping industry as a safety-critical industry, and with the transitional phase that the domain is undergoing at different levels, including IMO’s e-Navigation initiative comes the increased need to use HCD to avoid accidents or other human factors and social issues.
“Within the shipping industry, which is recognized as conservative, there has been a reactive culture where the human factors-related issues were studied after accidents occurred, rather than having a more proactive mindset.”

But it's not all just about safety and building the tools for improving the performance of the systems on board. Nicole Costa sees HCD from a broader perspective, for social sustainability.
“There are also social aspects. How will the increased digitalization of shipping actually affect the structures of the industry? How does it affect the roles of the different stakeholders? The communication networks? Career paths, education and training?  We have to think about where the shipping industry is going and what it will look like in the future. So, do we want to go in that direction or take it somewhere else?”

According to Nicole Costa this mindset needs to become a collective and concerted effort in the industry similarly to the effort of decreasing emissions.
“It’s a challenge. It is required that all stakeholders do their part and do not pass the responsibility of human-centred design onto others.”

Nicole Costa’s thesis derives from the work of six appended articles that mainly utilized a qualitative approach to data collections and analyses, including focus groups, interviews and observations. In total, two design teams and four separate sets of on board and shore-based operators were consulted for data collection.

After finalizing her PhD education at Chalmers University of Technology, Nicole Costa is now working at SSPA Sweden AB as a project manager, in maritime human factors- and digitalization-related projects.

Read the thesis here

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