CyClaDes & the Human Centered Design (HCD) of Ships

Ship Design with a Human Touch

Like fire, technology is a good servant but a bad master. Technology can create its own set of issues and challenges. And sometimes excessive reliance on technology while ignoring instincts can and has caused many a disaster in the maritime world and beyond.


The Bridge of a Ship with Controls & Display Systems
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CyClaDes stands for Crew-Centered Design and Operation of Ships and Ship Systems. It seeks to integrate the human element into the design and operational lifecycle of ships. Human Centered Design (HCD) places the human perspective at the focal point during all design stages.

The idea behind CyClaDes was to bring together all professionals associated with ship design viz. shipyard personnel, suppliers, operators, and the seafarer community. CyClaDes has already established an e-learning avenue that offers precious guidelines for shipyards, designers, and shipowners

Funded by the European Union (EU) and led by the German classification society Germanischer Lloyd, the €4.2 million CyClaDes project includes fourteen partners – classification societies and manufacturers – from nine countries. It started in October 2012 and was complete in September 2015.

In over a year however, HCD has remained largely unknown to the designers and operators of ships and onboard equipment. It was with the objective to raise awareness of HCD that the Nautical Institute presented the second edition of the Improving Ship Operational Design booklet in late-2016.

Project Details

CyClaDes seeks to promote the human element in the design and operational lifecycle of ships by focusing on how to best locate, produce, broadcast, and apply the knowledge of the human element in the broader context of shipping.

An Electronic Navigation Chart
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This, it seeks to do by focusing on all the:

  • key stages in a ship’s lifecycle
  • stakeholders
  • locations where the integration of the human element can be impeded

Handling of complex equipment is often a challenge because sometimes the designers and makers of such equipment do not take the strengths and limitations of the operator into consideration. This can cause mishaps.

CyClaDes seeks to improve both, safety and user experience. The project has compiled the best practices, methods, and data on common errors in the design and operation life cycle and made it accessible to authorities, designers, and operators.

During the first phase of the project, surveyors collected information from shipyards and ship operators through a questionnaire. All participants showed genuine interest in HCD and:

  • regarded HCD as important
  • mentioned that they already practiced it although in a partial and poorly formalized manner
  • were genuinely interested in HCD
  • opined that the introduction of HCD rules would make the maritime industry take HCD more seriously

A genuine barrier in mainstreaming HCD in the maritime industry, or in any industry for that matter, is the divergence in perspective of the regulators, designers, and operators. Participants in CyClaDes therefore decided to first evaluate the usability of HCD guidelines.

Ship Designers will have to Increasingly Adopt Human Centric Design (HCD) of Ships
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Similar projects and programs include:

  • CASCADe is another EU-financed project on HCD. It has built adaptive bridge displays that integrate humans and electronics into the same system
  • HELM is an International Maritime Organization (IMO) training standard for human factors, management, and leadership. It has been laid down in the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
  • Alert! Program of the Nautical Institute began in 2003 and has, thus far, issued 40 bulletins to raise awareness on the human element

The Broader Context

A longstanding issue with sophisticated equipment has been their (excessive) complexity. It is widely whispered that technology companies make what is possible and what can be marketed. This may or may not include what is necessary.

Operator convenience is not very high in the priority of the designer. Precisely this is what HCD intends to change. Hi-tech gadgets are great to have. What is equally important is that the human-machine interface is simple and operators know how to use these devices.

Marine Engineers at Work
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Some say, designers marginalize the human element because they are engineers. And engineers primarily deal with machines, not humans. They have neither the training nor the inclination to understand human factors.

An important reason for the low adoption of HCD in ships (in the one year since the completion of CyClaDes) is the unwillingness to change the established order of things and the negligible level of communication between crews and design engineers.

Executing HCD can be as simple as brightly coloring the bottom steps so that users can see them and not lose their footing. In essence, HCD believes in adapting a ship and its systems to humans (crew) instead of forcing the crew to adapt to the ship.

We are only inviting disaster when we thrust uncomfortable systems on users. Human error is responsible for as many as 80% of ship accidents. More precisely, human errors are responsible for:

  • 89-96% collisions
  • 75-96% maritime casualties
  • 84-88% tanker mishaps
  • 79% groundings of towing vessels
  • 75% allisions i.e. collision between a moving and a stationary ship
  • 75% fires and explosions

A maritime system consists of:

  • People: pilots, crew, Vessel Traffic Service Operators, dock workers etc.
  • Technology: equipment, machinery, and gadgets
  • Organization: hierarchical framework, work schedules, size and training levels of the crew, and safety practices
  • Environment: sea state, temperature of the cabin or the location where the crew member operates, ambient lighting, weather, noise, and vibration. The environment also includes the economic and regulatory climate of the day

Human error is a very general term. This is not to say that inherent human limitations are not responsible for mishaps. The point is, the mismatch between people and technology, environment, and organization creates conditions conducive for human errors.

Economic downturns are more likely to make ship owners contract risky voyages. Cost cutting via understaffing and deliberate extension of work schedules similarly exacerbates risks. Rough weather and the extremes of temperature, noise, and vibrations aggravate the possibility of human error.


People resist change for two main reasons. One, all changes take us out of our comfort zones. Second, new technologies can sometimes be useless. Or the pain in adopting them might be way more than the gains they offer.

This is precisely why innovations and inventions, even the really useful ones, are slow to gather steam. But once a few good men take the plunge and demonstrate the utility of the new technology, others follow suit. As yet, HCD is far from this stage.

Optimization is crucial and can often make the difference between success and failure. By placing the human perspective at the center stage of the design process, HCD promises to produce the optimal blend of human intelligence with technological prowess.

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