Naval Operations and Systems

Air Warfare
Surface Warfare
Submarine Warfare
Autonomous Systems
Operational Planning and Routing


Deep-Water Petroleum Drilling
Manufacturing and Industrial Process Control

Command and Control

Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR)
Information Warfare
Electronic Warfare (EW)
Cyber Warfare
Decision Making
Meteorology / Oceanography
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief

Medical and Health

Medical Devices
Radiation Treatment
Processes and Procedures

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These domains are quickly emerging as foci of government and commercial interest and PSE activity.

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Unmanned Vehicles,
Aviation, and Autonomy

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Virtual and
Augmented Reality

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PSE uses scientific principles from human factors engineering, ergonomics, visual perception, and cognitive science to create interface designs that are effective, optimize human and system performance, and a pleasure to use. PSE uses an array of methods including response time, errors, key stroke monitoring, eye tracking, and EEG. Because we examine human performance in complex systems, we often create detailed interactive prototypes to test hypotheses and alternative designs.

PSE’s multi-disciplinary teams build design concepts for both novel technical capabilities and updates to existing systems. We build conceptual diagrams early — before a system or upgrade is built — ensuring that critical human capabilities are incorporated into the development process. Our expertise in multiple domains allows us to evolve concepts into designs that are relevant to the actual environments where they will be applied. Client, system, and user feedback is incorporated throughout the design process. The result is design solutions that are innovative, yet practical and effective.

Example Project: Deepwater Oil Drilling

Trident is a suite of tools for assessing the human factors posture of ultra-deep water petroleum drilling and for analyzing accidents. Our approach was to marry an industry-standard risk management framework with the human factors concept of the decision cycle.

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St. John, M. F. (2015). Developing a set of human factors barriers for deep-water drilling risk assessment. In Proceedings of the 2015 Offshore Technology Conference. Houston, TX: Offshore Technology Conference.

St. John, M., Stroud, T., Harris, M., Wingate, K., & Maurino, K. (2017). Assessing the cognitive human factors of well control. In 2017 IADC Health, Safety, Environment, and Training Conference and Exhibition. Houston, TX.

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Dovetailing with concept development, prototype development matures a concept a working system prototype, using realistic, often live, data. We work closely with software developers and system engineers to provide a polished, interactive prototype that enables clients to realize their end products and streamline their development processes.

Feedback from stakeholders, including program management, end users, and domain experts is incorporated throughout the prototyping process to ensure the designs meet system and user needs. This feedback ranges from interviews to formal usability tests at production sites. PSE often develops detailed styles guides as part of the prototyping process to ensure good communication of consistent and effective style information with system developers.

Example Project: Prototypes

PSE has worked in a wide variety of domains to develop concepts and working prototypes for systems, many in command and control and process control. Some examples are:

  • Submarine navigation and contact management
  • Unmanned vehicle control, including swarms
  • Tablet/graphical communication tools
  • Communication system supervision
  • Data privacy
  • Well control
  • Power plant control
  • Mission planning
  • An interactive guide for designing for trust in automation visualization

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Understanding the task and users’ cognitive and perceptual requirements lie at the heart of usability and human-system integration. We do up-front research to ensure that we understand the goals, expectations, and requirements of end users – and the system.

For new systems, we begin with a concept development approach by analyzing system requirements, user tasks, and user cognitive and perceptual constraints, then designing workflows, and finally developing complete concept designs. For existing systems, we begin with human factors heuristic reviews of the system and interviews with stakeholders, including program managers, users, and experts. We then create and track design recommendations in JIRA. We develop task workflows and design wire-frame illustrations of new and revised designs, and we interact closely with software developers within their sprint cycles to transition recommendations into the real system.

Once designs are implemented, we use more formal usability assessments to evaluate the revised system and measure human performance, and system, improvements. We take these assessments to the real users, often around the world, to where the real work is being done.

Example Project: Common User Interface Style & Interaction Guide

  • A tool designed by PSE to support and guide evaluation
  • Descriptions of HSI (Human System Integration) and design best practices
  • Functional user interface guidance
  • Visual examples
  • 204 common HSI system requirements
  • C4I, EIS, and Maintainer UI appendices
  • UI verification checklist

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Kiken, A., Toftely, S., & Risser, M. (2015, October) Common UI Style & Interaction Guide: Not just another style guide. Paper presented at the National Defense Industrial Association 18th Annual System Engineering Conference, Springfield, VA.

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PSE provides test and evaluation (T&E) services tailored to both laboratory and field requirements. We test early concept designs and low-fidelity prototypes in our controlled, dedicated lab settings where we can precisely measure the impact of the design on human performance. Conversely, we test high-fidelity prototypes and systems in the field to incorporate the stress and impact of the environment where the systems will be used.

We have a battery of methods to evaluate the effects of system designs on usability and performance, yet we especially value a hands-on approach where we take advantage of face-to-face discussions with clients and end users to dig deeper into why systems work or do not work. The findings are then used to develop design solutions that address the causes of performance problems rather than the symptoms.

PSE provides a full range of T&E services that can be used throughout system or product development, or we can provide end-to-end support, including scoping the T&E effort, modeling the work process, modeling and simulation, designing data collection materials and procedures, data collection, and reporting.

Example Project: Trident Warrior

Trident Warrior (TW) is a navy, fleet experimentation exercise for evaluating new technology initiatives. Numerous proposed technologies are examined during operational usage within technical areas such as Cyber, Information Dominance, and Command and Control. Human Systems Integration (HSI) assessments are an important component in the evaluation of many technologies.

PSE helped to develop an evaluation process and metrics structure for assessing HSI factors in TW initiatives. This combined methodology ensures that the performance of the ‘human in-the-loop’ is measured as part of evaluating overall system effectiveness.

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PSE develops training materials for a variety of customers in military, commercial, and medical environments. We produce training programs and user aids in formats that are most effective, including:

  • user manuals,
  • quick reference guides (QRGs),
  • embedded training,
  • job performance aids, and
  • decision support tools.

We use a unique mix of established and cutting edge approaches, such as our proprietary “training content x style matrix” for evaluating how best to present different content within a training course. Our multidisciplinary teams offer a comprehensive approach to training and user aids, including:

  • Needs analysis and program evaluation - both pre- and post-training
  • Interface & navigational assistance through use of QRGs and other user aids
  • A wide variety of tailored training materials and guidance that can support new systems or improve existing capabilities

Our award-winning laboratory research is designed to measure the impact of human factors principles that underlie effective designs. Only when we understand why good designs work, can we generalize to create other good designs.

PSE uses an array of methods including response time, errors, key stroke monitoring, eye tracking, and EEG, and because we examine human performance in complex systems, we often create detailed interactive prototypes to test hypotheses and alternative designs.

In addition to experimentation, PSE employs a variety of modeling and simulation methods including keystroke models, user interface salience and clutter analyses, and multi-user workload modeling.

Example Project: 3D Displays

This award winning, research project investigated (1) when to use and when not to use 3D displays for complex, high stakes, command and control tasks, (2) what symbology should populate 3D displays, (3) why and when people misinterpret 3D displays, and (4) why some people still prefer 3D displays, in spite of performing certain tasks consistently worse with them.

Using field observations, controlled laboratory studies, and research expertise in human vision, we empirically investigated 2D and 3D display designs across a wide range of tasks, and several display manipulation tools. We investigated display design principles, the perceptual and cognitive sources of misperceptions, naïve user preferences, and the role of individual differences in spatial ability in these effects.

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St. John, M., Cowen, M. B., Smallman, H. S., & Oonk, H. M.  (2001). The use of 2-D and 3-D displays for shape understanding vs. relative position tasks.  Human Factors, 43, 79-98. (article of the year, Human Factors, 2002)

Smallman, H. S., St. John, M., Oonk, H. M., & Cowen, M. B. (2001) Information availability in 2D and 3D displays.  IEEE: Computer Graphics and Application, 21, 51-57.

Smallman, H. S. & St. John, M. (2005). Naïve realism: Misplaced faith in the utility of realistic displays. Ergonomics In Design, 13, 6-13.

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“I’ve been involved in several studies, and I rarely get the feeling that the people doing the studies really understand the process and are just going through the motions. Your team really seems to have a grasp on how we function and I can tell you have an appreciable interest in helping us make improvements to our processes.”

- Joint Operational Support Airlift Center (JOSAC) Commander

Our Clients

Defense and Intelligence Agencies

Army Research Institute
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA)
Marine Corps Systems Command; TECOM
Naval Air Systems Command
Naval Sea Systems Command
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
Naval Underwater Systems Center, Newport
Office of Naval Research (ONR)
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific & Atlantic
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific
Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic
Naval Information Warfare Systems Command

Other Federal Agencies

Department of Energy
Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
National Institute on Aging
National Institute on Nursing Research
Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Medical Devices & Health Systems

Army Medical Command
Food and Drug Admin, Devices and Radiological Health
Naval Medical R&D Command
Veteran’s Administration, Walter Reed, Tripler, and Balboa Hospitals

Corporations & Research Groups

Booz Allen Hamilton
CGI Federal / Stanley Associates, Inc.
FGM Inc. / Novetta Solutions
Fisher-Rosemont Systems, Inc.
General Atomics
General Dynamics Information Technology
Human Resources Research Org. (HUMRRO)
Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab (APL)
Kratos Technical and Training Solutions, Inc.
Leidos Corporation
Lockheed Martin, ATL and MSS
M.C. Corporation, Ltd., Tokyo, Japan
Manpower Temporary Services
MEGA, Inc.
Metron, Inc.
Northrop Grumman
Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC)
SRI International


Colorado State University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Naval Postgraduate School
San Diego State University
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara