In this paper we use sensor-annotated abstraction hierarchies (Reising & Sanderson, 1996, 2002a,b) to show that unless appropriately instrumented, configural displays designed according to the principles of ecological interface design (EID) might be vulnerable to misinterpretation when sensors become unreliable or are unavailable. Building on foundations established in Reising and Sanderson (2002a) we use a pasteurization process control example to show how sensor-annotated AHs help the analyst determine the impact of different instrumentation engineering policies on a configural display that is part of an ecological interface. Our analyses suggest that configural displays showing higher-order properties of a system are especially vulnerable under some conservative instrumentation configurations. However, sensor-annotated AHs can be used to indicate where corrective instrumentation might be placed. We argue that if EID is to be effectively employed in the design of displays for complex systems, then the information needs of the human operator need to be considered while instrumentation requirements are being formulated. Rasmussen's abstraction hierarchy-and particularly its extension to the analysis of information captured by sensors and derived from sensors-may therefore be a useful adjunct to up-stream instrumentation design. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.