THE SYMMETRY TRAP

IN CONTROL ROOM DESIGN

Humans are attracted to symmetry. We see it in nature, we create it with architecture, and we even seek it out in the faces and bodies of potential partners.

Symmetry tends to impact 3 levels of the design:

  1. The shape and size of the consoles
  2. The way that the consoles are laid out in the room, and
  3. The way that equipment is laid out on the consoles

Our quest for symmetry can be a detriment to our effectiveness as control room designers. There is a tendency to favor layouts that are symmetrical, even if the symmetrical layout doesn’t address the functional requirements of the room as effectively as an asymmetrical design.

Consider this console layout. Visually, the layout looks balanced. The 3 operator positions are all symmetrical and consistent. The storage cabinets on either end of the console are symmetrical.  Even the equipment on the worksurface is symmetrical. At a quick glance, your brain tells you that this layout looks correct, and therefore the layout is good.

Now consider this layout.

The operator workstations are inconsistent and asymmetrical. The entire right side of the console looks unbalanced because the left-hand section is so much smaller and has far fewer monitors. The operator station farthest to the right doesn’t look correct because there are 3 small monitors instead of 2 small monitors.

The hard control panels with the switches and pushbuttons on the console are not centered between the working areas. This layout is visually jarring – especially when you compare it to the layout in Console 1. When you see an asymmetrical layout like Console 2, your mind immediately jumps to the things that you need to add or take away from the workstation to balance out the design. For example, adding large overview screens to the two stations on the left end of the console and removing 1 small screen from the far-right end of the console would make all the workstations more consistent.

The important thing to recognize is that our desire for symmetry is an instinct, not a design criterion. Bad decisions can be made unconsciously for the sake of symmetry without the implications of those decisions being fully understood.

There can also be operational benefits to symmetrical workstations. If there are multiple operator stations set up to do the exact same job, it is easier for operators to orient themselves from any workstation in the room when their consoles are consistent.

However, if the operator on the far-right end of the console is doing a different job from the other operators and he needs 3 monitors to be more effective, then making all the workstations on the console consistent and symmetrical by only have 2 small monitors per station probably isn’t the best decision.

The important thing to recognize is that our desire for symmetry is an instinct, not a design criterion. Bad decisions can be made unconsciously for the sake of symmetry without the implications of those decisions being fully understood.

There can also be operational benefits to symmetrical workstations. If there are multiple operator stations set up to do the exact same job, it is easier for operators to orient themselves from any workstation in the room when their consoles are consistent.

However, if the operator on the far-right end of the console is doing a different job from the other operators and he needs 3 monitors to be more effective, then making all the workstations on the console consistent and symmetrical by only have 2 small monitors per station probably isn’t the best decision.

The unconscious desire for symmetry extends beyond just the equipment layout on the console. People tend to prefer room layouts that are symmetrical in which the workstations themselves are also symmetrical.

Symmetrical room layouts aren’t necessarily a problem if operational requirements for different workstations aren’t being sacrificed just for the sake of symmetry.

It is also worth keeping in perspective that the way that you perceive the space in person will be completely different when you are standing in the control center versus what you see on a bird’s eye view of a layout drawing.

Symmetrical room layouts aren’t necessarily a problem if operational requirements for different workstations aren’t being sacrificed just for the sake of symmetry.

It is also worth keeping in perspective that the way that you perceive the space in person will be completely different when you are standing in the control center versus what you see on a bird’s eye view of a layout drawing.

Suppress your urge to make control rooms or workstations symmetrical just for the sake of symmetry.

Keep the actual goals for the space at the top of your mind; you may be able to meet the goals of the space better by providing workstations that are multiple different sizes, shapes, and asymmetrical.

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

Canadian Sales Manager

eturner@trescoconsoles.com

LinkedIn


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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