This page considers the question of whether the aesthetic qualities of a flight deck are (or should be) a relevant consideration for human factors in the design of flight decks.
Aesthetics concerns the sensory or emotive responses of humans to objects, and the values attached to them. In other words, aesthetics involves judgments about whether an object is attractive or desireable, or has a pleasing appearance.
Traditionally, both the engineers who design and build flight decks and the human factors professionals who apply human factors principles in analysis of that design, have been concerned principally with the function of the flight deck, rather than its form. Human factors in particular is concerned with whether an object is useable by its human operator, rather than whether that operator enjoys the appearance of the object.
However, there is one school of thought that says that form and function cannot (or shold not) be separated, and that things that look good work better. This view has also been challenged.
Does an attractive flight deck work better?
The question is whether, if a flight deck is designed to be perceived as attractive by its users, those users will also perceive that the flight deck is more usable.
A study performed by Gannon in 2005 tested the impact of the visual appeal of different primary flight display "skins" in a series of simulated instrument approaches by 24 pilots.1
Gannon identified a linkage between aesthetics and NASA TLX workload according to which there was significantly lower overall workload associated with the PFDs rated most attractive, and vice versa. Gannon's test did not find any linkage between easthetics and performance.
Comparative aesthetics in the design of modern flight decks
|Douglas DC-3||Developed c. 1935|
|Boeing 747-200||Developed c. 1970|
|Boeing 777||Developed c. 1993. In 1993, the 777 flight deck won the Industrial Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America.|
|Boeing 787||Developed c. 2009. Boeing's latest flight deck design, for the 787 Dreamliner, features the same open curved design used extensively in the cabin of the aircraft, where it is intended to create feelings of spaciousness. This same curved design is mirrored in the pilots' seating and centre console, which is a departure from previous models, and suggests an effort to create the same atmosphere on the flight deck.|
1 Gannon, 'Flight deck aesthetics and pilot performance: New uncharted seas', in J. A. Wise (et al) (eds.), Handbook of Aviation Human Factors (2nd ed.). CRC Press, Baco Ratton, 2010, p 16-12.
2 Image sources (in order of appearance) from Wikimedia Commons as follows: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d3/Buffalo_Airways_DC3_GPNR_cockpit.jpg/500px-Buffalo_Airways_DC3_GPNR_cockpit.jpg by CambridgeBayWeather; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d8/747_Cockpit_Mus%C3%A9e_de_l%27air_et_de_l%27espace_2009.jpg/500px-747_Cockpit_Mus%C3%A9e_de_l%27air_et_de_l%27espace_2009.jpg by Jerome; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/db/Boeing_777-200ER_cockpit.jpg/500px-Boeing_777-200ER_cockpit.jpg by Bill Abbott; image http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8a/787-flight-deck.jpg/500px-787-flight-deck.jpg, http://www.militaryfactory.com/cockpits/787_cockpit.asp.