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CASE STUDY:

Aviator Electronic Flight Bag – Boeing / Jeppesen
Competition-fragmented and complex industry logistics with sky-high expectations

 

Multi-leg flight plans scheduled with increasingly urgent turns, individual airline operating procedures, and rigorous pilot expectations! I was recruited to drive user-centered best practices, accessibility, integration, and standardization efforts. I led outreach to Boeing pilots, building trust in user-centered design principles with the business stakeholders who saw the value, providing actual customer pilot access. I helped flip customers from the competition with targeted analysis and interventions geared toward human factors, and ultimately, user satisfaction.

The problem

 

When I joined the Aviator iOS application team in 2017, the product's legacy roots were on display with glaring accessibility problems, limited functionality, and customer airline pilot's begging for integrated experiences. There was a culture limiting access to customer pilots leading to insecurity in design that was discouraging for the design team. We had infrequent meetings with a flight deck subject matter expert (SME) and a Boeing pilot.

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How might we improve user-centered design culture
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What's on your radar developer inclusive exercise

There were several UI challenges on my radar at this time. Stepping back a few years before Aviator integrated a flight briefing and documents module, the product served to load standard format flight plans and share the details to separate applications. It was a humble dashboard UI and flight menu. Introducing the briefing and documents modules consumed all the resources until I joined the team. The product felt unfinished and disjointed.The flight deck SME offered access to a simulator, and upon testing the application in a flight there, the weak human factors and legibility problems became apparent. The cabin of an airline jet is dark so bright backlit devices are almost blinding. Also, iPads are mounted at arm's length amplifying the interference of turbulence. I rented a Tesla to compare the dashboard experience in a relatively mature consumer product with many observations. I integrated accessibility findings with quiet, dark cockpit philosophy and presented a thesis to the Aviator team just three and a half months after joining the team.

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Aviator before refactor
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Tesla rental screenshot
In-simulator design review
Exercises to improve legibility of content in briefing

I created a light as well as dark mode design to illustrate the need for both because bright sun glare can interfere with a dark mode UI. We prioritized a refactor for high contrast dark mode before Apple's dark iOS existed, improving contrast and legibility when visibility is low and sight is sensitive. 

Dark Mode Refactor
Light Mode Refactor

Aviator UX design teammates had no access to customer pilots. On a whim, I spoke to a dispatcher who worked at the Boeing delivery center across the street. She named the dispatch coordinator. I used my Boeing badge access to introduce myself.

The solution


Coordinating with the flight dispatchers, I developed regular team UI review sessions with delivery center pilots. The feedback was jet fuel for progress noticed by leadership, who slowly began to open the gates to customer pilot reviews. Over time this would lead to open-handed access and even travel to airline headquarters and customer access board meetings and conferences for on-site usability testing and interviews. Dashboard Workflow Integration
I had been designing and testing dashboard solutions with airline customers with increasing frustration for about a year. Airline pilot and admin access unveiled the variable expectations for situational awareness presented on the dashboard and preflight workflows. 

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Experience diagram displays the pilot's journey from preflight to landing
Whiteboard of preflight with test pilots at Boeing delivery center

In 2019 I had a dashboard epiphany inspired by the Apple Home app. I spent a few months designing a prototype workflow tiles customized by airlines to create a flow of flight plan highlights, like a checklist with a simple route map for at a glance context. Unlike previous flat and crowded dashboards, this minimal solution embraced progressive display of information with large touch targets for quick, on-demand review. The intentional customization aligned with airline stakeholders and chief pilots' desires. And it's scalability meant it could grow to accomodate future integrations.

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Old static dashboard
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New dynamic dashboard

One of the most visible aspects of flight plan management is loading and updating the flight plan. The neglected feature demanded intervention after repeated usability tests highlighted it as a primary problem. The hierarch confused pilots who did not know what to touch to load the flight. Also, the popover view was too small to support all the status and actions needed to evaluate and maintain data currency. I used a whiteboard to concept a full-screen sheet—this provided space for larger touch targets and legible status without hidden gesture-based actions.

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Flight menu whiteboard concepts for schedule and search

My role

As User Experience Design Lead, I understand the commercial aviation industry generally and precisely track individual airline needs. I take feedback from usability tests, leadership meetings, and conferences to the product team to innovate and integrate operations universally and individually if necessary. I know my teammates' limits and skills, assigning work accordingly and contributing to their investigations with positive reinforcement. 

I work with the business team to strategize about onboarding airlines and training topics. I work with the airlines themselves to ensure that their data meets expectations and that the backlog captures anything that needs corrections. I represent the product at customer access boards, international conferences, and airline headquarters.

 

When needed, I attend design sprints to envision new solutions on Aviator adjacent projects. In 2019 I joined a design sprint at Apple in Cupertino to support day-in-the-life maintenance operations.

Additional design artifacts

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Whiteboard walls from Apple design sprint in Cupertino
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Whiteboard detail from Apple design sprint
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Navlog module with high level sig weather
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Navlog module route list view

Processes and tools I use

Formative research, competitive research, stakeholder interviews, in-depth user interviews, surveys, contextual interviews, personas, usability testing, Sketch wireframes, and narrative storytelling, Invision, and Flinto prototypes