The ALMA radio-telescope, currently under construction in northern Chile, is a very advanced instrument that
presents numerous challenges. From a software perspective, one critical issue is the design of graphical user
interfaces for operations monitoring and control that scale to the complexity of the system and to the massive
amounts of data users are faced with. Early experience operating the telescope with only a few antennas has
shown that conventional user interface technologies are not adequate in this context. They consume too much
screen real-estate, require many unnecessary interactions to access relevant information, and fail to provide
operators and astronomers with a clear mental map of the instrument. They increase extraneous cognitive load,
impeding tasks that call for quick diagnosis and action.
To address this challenge, the ALMA software division adopted a user-centered design approach. For the
last two years, astronomers, operators, software engineers and human-computer interaction researchers have
been involved in participatory design workshops, with the aim of designing better user interfaces based on
state-of-the-art visualization techniques. This paper describes the process that led to the development of those
interface components and to a proposal for the science and operations console setup: brainstorming sessions,
rapid prototyping, joint implementation work involving software engineers and human-computer interaction
researchers, feedback collection from a broader range of users, further iterations and testing.