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Five human-centred digital development principles, inspired by Space

Space and Design: how it all started

Not every Space enthusiast aspires to determine rocket launch trajectories. For me, it all started with a fascination for Space psychology, by learning how astronauts’ perception of time gets distorted during missions. This inspired me to design the thought experiment of a calendar divided into seasons based on the human perception of time. This thought experiment eventually led me to become an analogue astronaut and talk at Space conferences. Little did I imagine that I, a person working in the banking digital transformation as a human-centred designer, could also contribute to Space knowledge.

As I delved deeper into the realm of Space psychology, I couldn’t resist applying what I learnt about Space to my everyday work in digital development.And that’s what I want to share with you today: five guiding principles for human-centred digital development inspired by Space knowledge that I apply everyday in my work of digital transformation.I hope this interdisciplinary application of Space knowledge, human centred design and digital transformation will inspire you to also create thought experiments (perhaps exploring the concept of time as I have done), to propel the application of Space knowledge to other fields or to inspire you to get involved in Space despite not having the standard rocket-launch passion background.


5 human-centred digital development principles, inspired by Space:

1. The overview effect principle: zoom out

In 1987, the Space philosopher Frank White coined the term “Overview Effect”, a term used as a tool to conceptualise something that most people haven’t experienced: an inner cognitive shift that astronauts in Space experience when viewing Earth, the fragile ball in the dark void of outer Space from which only the vibrant interconnected ecosystem is visible.

In complex projects of digital transformation, there are often multiple stakeholders and IT systems landscapes. It is essential to zoom out, forget the details of the projects, and recognise the overarching pattern of how the IT system ecosystem is interconnected in the value chain. With the overview effect principle in mind, I gather people from various parts of the value chain and facilitate discussions.

This allows me and all the stakeholders involved, to see the ecosystem of systems and processes with a bigger overview perspective, more context, and a renewed sense of the interconnected ecosystem of processes we contribute to. It also helps create a safe space to ask and question the basics because everybody is an expert in different fields, so everyone is a beginner in others’ fields.

earth from the moon perspective

2. The spacesuit principle: keep it human-centred

The complex nature of Space necessitates extremely advanced technology to be handled. In comparison, apps for Earth are very simple.

It still needs to be operated by humans and under extreme usability conditions: imagine having to drill a screw while wearing a spacesuit, floating in no gravity and having limited visibility.

When you have to look at complex problems, look at it from the perspective of a person using the system or the product. It narrows your focus to simplicity and value-adding details that address the core problem, allowing technical complexity to follow rather than dictate the solution.

During digital transformation projects, I look at IT systems from an emphatic point of view. I start with a listening tour with the users working with the system. What’s their workflow? At what stage in their workflow do they interact with the IT system? What is the 20% of the things they do that gives 80% of the value? What’s frustrating? Why? And what works well? Why?

human in space photo by NASA

3. The delayed connectivity principle: focus on deep work

When I was an analogue astronaut at the Lunares Research Station, my crew and I had to simulate delayed communication to Earth by only having access to emails, no instant messaging. During those weeks, I was on a consistent flow of concentration. Forced to write emails, instead of short messages, I elaborated my experience at a deeper level than just writing to my family in capital letters “IT’S AMAZING”.

The term “deep work” was coined by Carl Newport to describe the process of engaging in professional tasks with uninterrupted focus, maximising cognitive abilities. These endeavours yield fresh value, enhance skills, and are challenging to reproduce.

In the world of IT development for businesses, the creation of new systems is to streamline and speed up the manual work of people without needing to juggle between different windows, interfaces and programs; while technologies developed for personal use are often designed to fragment time and create distractions, which impedes to concentrate at a deeper level.

When assessing the development of a technology, on top of the user experience, I consider how much will this new technology or system help the user to foster reflection and deep thoughts rather than distraction and partial attention.

4. The wide time principle: measure time beyond its length

During long-term missions, astronauts tend to detach from Earth’s Mission Control “time” and establish their own reference points in time. Factors such as the absence of a natural day-night cycle, psychological hibernation, and time-warping monotony contribute to this phenomenon.

To counteract the negative effects of time on motivation and reaction time, we can choose alternative time units that define time more meaningfully. In this situation, there are time units that matter more than minutes, hours and days.

Companies have also experimented on different time units. The Danish company Sunset Boulevard time-blocked specific tasks at the same time, Meta introduced the time unit “time well-spent” to measure time spent meaningfully by users, and going all the way back to 1998, Swatch introduced Internet Time to navigate across the internet irrespective of time zones.

Similarly, when engaged in long-term development projects spanning 2–3 years, it becomes essential to select a time unit that imparts meaningful definition to our work and team. This could involve considering factors such as intensity, lifecycles, milestones, number of iterations, team events, or celebrations. I organise workshops with my team members, revisiting the initial prototypes, and sketch out a bumpy line representing the ups and downs we shared together. We often find ourselves laughing at the extent of transformation in the prototypes and our skills.

Ok, but why “wide” time?

Time Dilatation graphics by nasa

This principle is my favourite because time perception is what brought me to discover Space and create the thought experiment.

Wide time, stands for time that is measured in width, rather than length. A time unit that measures the intensity with which one perceives time. For example, have you ever felt like more can happen in a week of holiday than a whole month of work?

I apply this principle in my daily life, and I created the term of amplevity (From Latin amplitudinem “wide extent, width”), meaning a life perceived longer than the years lived, thanks to a high number of multiple perspectives, insights and lessons learned. Which brings me to the last point.

5. The new logics principle: create new words to create new logics

The language we use holds us back. Consider the word “design”. In many non-native English speaking countries, the word “design” is commonly linked to the idea of something static and visually appealing.

However, its current meaning has evolved to encompass a dynamic process involving planning, creating, and building. To foster disruptive thinking and break away from past practices, creating new words becomes essential for establishing new logics.

Let it be the overview effect, deep work or amplevity. Like Frank White used the term “Overview Effect” as a tool to conceptualise something, language shapes our understanding, enabling us to express and share innovative concepts, driving progress exponentially, rather than incrementally.


The application of space knowledge to these 5 principles of human-centered digital development has proven to be a successful approach to navigating complexities of IT systems. By drawing inspiration from space psychology and experiences of astronauts, we can revolutionise our perspective on complex projects on Earth.

And, by embracing these principles, we can propel the application of space knowledge to digital transformation and inspire interdisciplinary thinking across various fields, ultimately driving progress beyond Space engineering.

designers in space community logo

This article was originally published by Designers in Space Community on Medium here. Go check it out.

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