Case Study

Chemical Engineering Design

  • Interdisciplinary Team
  • Energy

We conducted a large-scale project to better understand users and create concept designs for 12 products being combined into a new version.


We worked with a client that makes software to automate chemical engineering processes for everything from oil refineries to power stations. The goal was to redesign their full software suite, in an effort to provide a more unified user experience.

Integrating software from 12 complex products into 1? Daunting challenge! Thorough user research and visionary conceptual designs? Winning combo.


We employed a full-featured User-Centered-Design (UCD) process to help translate research insights into real-world designs tailored for a range of user types. Multiple activities, including contextual inquiry field studies, interactive card sorting, discovery workshops and usability testing were used to guide the iterative design process.

Over the course of the project we interviewed over 75 users in the field, exploring and cataloging their work environments and workflows. Most interviews took place in the user's environment – it's the best way to get a sense for everything that might impact a given large workflow. For example, simulation software setups can vary wildly, from single screen laptops to 6+ screen operator consoles. Making sure the updated designs worked well across a variety of setups was a crucial finding.


We expected the design concepts to evolve rapidly, and made sure to build in an iterative design and testing component to the project. Designs were reviewed internally every week, and usability tested with clients using paper and digital prototypes at least once a month. This way, the new designs could be compared against the benchmark testing results of the existing products, which helped immensely when choosing features and a general design direction.

The main challenge was to create an experience that new users would find easy to learn, and experienced users could quickly adapt into their workflow. Doing this meant having to create a UI framework that could be easily developed by the client team. Here's a tiny view of what it looked like:


  • Generating a conceptual model and identifying the correct taxonomy and information architecture via a card sorting activity
  • Conceptualizing and refining the various features and functionality inside the product
  • Deciding on a UI organizational framework – in this case a main canvas with palettes
  • Making sure the design was Windows 7 compatible
  • Evaluating the designs through iterative usability testing with end users


One concept we explored was that of a “dashboard”, a homepage-like landing screen designed to expose both novice and expert users to the full functionality of the product. A dashboard is a useful way to see a rollup of data across different parts of a product suite, in addition to letting users collaborate with team members from around the world. These and other features were design directions we explored.


Services Used