Designing a Digital Command Center


What makes a good digital command center?



Digital Command Centers were becoming all the rage when the agency decided to build one of its own. They asked our group to research what would make one that's better than what was out there already.

Command centers were getting a lot of media attention around that time, and we found plenty of examples of how things were done elsewhere. Six screens connected to six different computers stuck in a windowless conference room -- that was basically the state of the art behind all the hype.

Command centers are typically designed for social media work and should allow for:

  • simultaneous monitoring of multiple data streams
  • sharing of knowledge between individuals and and teams
  • providing common reference points for collaborators
  • displaying information to audiences in a serendipitous manner

In addition to monitoring social media -- the primary use case for these kinds of spaces -- we wanted to make it useful in other ways:

  • Creative: for experimenting with new forms of retail signage
  • Strategy: for immersions into consumer environments.
  • Marketing: for displaying the agency's work in an impactful way
  • After-hours: for people to hang out

Based on this wish list, we have formulated six principles to which we stuck and which affected all of the decisions we ended up making: from the choice of the physical space to furniture selections and software design:

Take it out of the closet

Accommodate different types of work

Design around how real people work

People should to want to use it

Make it easy to fire up

Make the best use of it


Design process

Our first step was to find a suitable space. We took pictures of several possible locations and photoshopped some TV screens on the walls.

Once the location was picked, we did a round of crude renderings to get a feel for the space from different angles.

We then started filling out the details. One early idea was to equip the room with square displays that had a mechanism that allowed the screens to be pulled in and out. The idea was overuled as pretty but impractical.

We looked at how other industries design their command centers: petrochemical plans, traffic dispatchers, and stock brokerages.  We also spend a lot of time studying fictional interfaces such as this one from Matrix 2.

The architects took over to create the plan and final, detailed renderings.

Here, most of the heavy construction has been completed -- a wall had to be moved and the wiring had to be rerouted -- and the screens have been installed.

Boston City officials look on as the social team monitors the One Boston Day campaign.

With Bill Letson, Henry Bruce, Andres Hernandez, Vicky Lirantonakis, Paul Lenzi, Mike Proulx, and Chris Sherrill