Short Attention Spans

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Did you try to count the sticks?
See how easy it is for me to distract you from this article?

In 2015, A Microsoft study concluded that the attention span of an average person is now shorter than a goldfish. It claimed that our attention span was 12 seconds in the year 2000 but is now only eight seconds – shorter than the nine second attention span of a goldfish. As it turns out, those statistics were a little fishy.

It’s very difficult to find consensus in the scientific research on how long our attention span is. Various studies seem to put the average adult’s attention span between 5-20 minutes, but those numbers depend on a variety of factors (for example, whether the task was freely chosen or work related, participant age, level of physiological arousal, and how engaging or repetitive the task is).

The point is, in a world full of distractions, control room designers need to do everything they can to help operators to maintain their focus.

Almost all control room distractions are caused by one of three things:

  1. Noise
  2. Movement
  3. Environmental Factors

Control Room Noise

The most common cause of distracting noise in Control Rooms is the operators themselves.

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According to ISO 11064-6 environmental requirements, control rooms should maintain ambient noise levels in the range of 30-35 dB LAeq – somewhere between a quiet library and the sound of a moderate rainfall.

To avoid distractions, a control room should not be too loud. However, on the other end of the spectrum, a control room should not be too quiet either. Operators do not want a space so quiet that they can hear each other’s stomachs gurgle. White noise generators are a good solution for this problem, as they allow operators to choose their preferred level of ambient noise. You can learn more about the white noise generator that we integrate into our Personal Environment Control Units here.

Audible alarm systems are another potential source of a control center distraction. A correctly implemented audible alarm system should be loud enough to immediately draw the attention of the relevant operator but also quiet enough to not startle them or disturb the other operators in the room. To accomplish this, audible alarms should only be about 10 dB louder than the ambient noise level of the control room.

In control rooms with many operators that are all working relatively close to one another, it can be especially hard for operators to know whether an alarm is meant for their workstation, or a nearby colleague. One potential solution for this issue is by incorporating directional speakers into the consoles. These speakers create a focused “bubble of sound” around each operator.

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Directional speaker integrated into console design

Movement in the Control Room

The design of a control center should always consider how people move through the space.

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This requires an understanding of the walkways that are created by the console layout as well as an understanding of how the operators need to communicate with one another. 

When designing a control room, you should try to keep walkways out of operator sightlines—except in the case of some security operations centers (more on that in a future blog article). Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, irrelevant objects that move in and out of sightlines reflexively cause our eyes to move to that object.

If possible, the layout should also avoid creating large open spaces around operators because these spaces tend to become crowded.

Environmental Factors

Temperature, air quality, and lighting can all become distractions in the control room if not properly planned.

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A lot of factors will impact the temperature of your control center, including the size of the room, the construction of the building, the design of the heating and cooling systems, as well as the door and window locations. When you combine the fluctuations caused by these factors with differing operator preferences, it’s impossible to find a number on your thermostat that keeps everyone happy and focused, unless of course you have a control center with only one operator.

Air Quality

Some industrial manufacturing and mining control centers may have air quality concerns relating to dust and dirt. However, most control centers will not have serious air quality concerns – just make sure that the operations areas aren’t downwind from any locker rooms or bathrooms.


The lighting should be designed specifically for the needs of each unique control center.

Light levels must be sufficient for the tasks undertaken in the control room, but the lights cannot cause glare or reflect into the eyes of the operators.

Lighting in control room design is a topic worthy of its own post in the future.

For all the multi-operator control centers, it is worth considering localized heating and cooling options at each operator’s console.

Do you have a control room project that you want to talk with us about? Are there specific topics that are of interest to you?

I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions about the work that we do.

Evan Turner headshot

Evan Turner

Canadian Sales Manager


Tresco has been manufacturing custom consoles for 24/7 use critical operations centers since the early 1990s. We place a strong emphasis on operator-centered design. We want to share our collective experience working on hundreds of unique control room projects to help people make better control room design decisions.



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