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Accident investigations have revealed that unanticipated events are often precursors of major accidents. Unfortunately, conventional approaches to interface design for complex systems do not explicitly support problem solving during unanticipated events. Ecological Interface Design (EID) is a theoretical framework for designing computer interfaces that explicitly aims to support worker adaptation, especially during unanticipated events, leading to more robust user interfaces. However, limited verification and validation research in representative settings is impeding the adoption of the EID framework in the nuclear domain. This article presents an example by applying EID to the secondary side of a boiling water reactor plant simulator. The interface designers constructed abstraction hierarchy, causal, and part-whole models to acquire pertinent knowledge of the work domain and designed five ecological displays to represent the plant processes. These displays are analytically shown to contain visualization properties that could support monitoring and diagnosing unanticipated events in accordance to the claims of the EID framework. The analytical evaluation of the visualization features of the displays also illustrates that the EID framework could be applied to improve current verification practice. A companion article reports an empirical evaluation of these ecological displays to validate whether these properties could enhance operator performance.
Date of Publication: Dec. 2008