Pilots are responsible for flight planning, determining the safest flight route, pre-flight inspections of the plane and monitoring dozens of readouts in-flight. On top of that, when things go wrong they rely on their training and support tools to avoid a deadly crash. Given all of this, flying a plane is one of the most complex and mentally taxing jobs around despite how far we have come in air travel automation 

Griffith Creative Arts doctoral candidate, Pascale Schmid, is researching how to improve the legibility of the electronic documents pilots use in the cockpit in order to help improve commercial flight safety. Pascale is drawing on her design skills and extensive knowledge of typography to create a set of digital typefaces that pilots will find easier to read during both routine and high-stress situations. Check out our Q & A with Pascale Schmid below:  

Photo of Pascale Schmid looking at the camera and laughing

Photo courtesy of Pascale Schmid

What is the focus of your research?   

My PhD project focuses on typeface design within commercial flight safety. The main goal is to create a digital typeface family to improve the legibility of electronic documentation, such as manuals, checklists, maps and charts, available in Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs).   

Depending on the situation that pilots use this electronic documentation in, the design of the individual fonts will vary, taking into consideration that human beings read and process information differently during routine tasks as opposed to adverse circumstances. For example, during a flight, if there is a dimming of light in the cockpit due to a storm and the pilot needs to quickly consult his electronic manual, the typeface will automatically adapt and change to suit this new condition.  

Why is research in this niche area important?   

The contemporary aviation industry is nearly at the point of becoming totally reliant on electronic media so addressing the limited research into digital typography in the flight deck environment is particularly pressing. At the same time, typography is at a technological crossroad with end users being able to customise text beyond basic settings (text size, colour and/or weight) through the use of variable fonts.   

Considerations such as font variations are of particularly importance in the flight deck with its intricate workflows, and pilots constantly need to adapt to this ever-changing digital landscape. Typography has been considered an after-thought in flight deck documentation design with the consequence of poor typeface choices. What many people don’t realise is that these inadequate typeface choices have the potential of contributing to pilot error during high-stress situations.   

On completion of this project, I see the potential translation of my research into other disciplines and industries Findings from this project may be adapted to other high-stress areas, such as emergency rooms, operating theatres, etc.    

What got you interested in the area of Typography?  

My typographic journey began shortly after moving to Australia in 2010 as I developed an interest in graphic design. After a career in aviation, spanning over 11 years, I knew very little about the role of a designer. Therefore, I enrolled in various certificate courses, which eventually led me to complete a Bachelor in Design Futures & Honours at the Queensland College of Art.    

Learning more about the history of type, which is directly related to the development of writing systems thousands of years ago, fuelled my hunger for more knowledge, including how to design my own typeface. It is absolutely fascinating how small changes to the shape of a letter can affect an entire alphabet and, ultimately, how we engage with and understand a text. This ongoing curiosity about type is also what I am trying to pass on to my students while teaching typography at QCA.  

What help has the Library provided you with this project and during your candidature?   

The Library has been (and continues to be) an invaluable source of information—I have made good use of the facilities at QCA, Nathan and the Gold Coast campus. However, facilities are only as good as the staff that run them. Throughout my studies I have met highly knowledgeable, enthusiastic and engaging staff members who are more than happy to share their vast experience. Be it on campus, during workshops or online consultations, I can rely on assistance when I am drowning in references. 

This has been particularly useful as I am currently working on my first publication—a systematic quantitative literature review, which will form the basis of my research. Several online consultations with Librarian Fin Boyce have guided me in the right direction and provided me with a more in-depth understanding of how to conduct searches within various databases. Additionally, various Library workshops prepared me for my postgraduate studies. However, the opportunity to repeat the workshops, depending on the stage I am at in my PhD, has provided me with important know-how to become a more rigorous and efficient researcher.