What is Human Factors?
- The most important idea to remember is "Know
Your Users". Your users are everything to you. They are your
lifeblood. What you are making or designing is for your users, not for
yourself. If you fail to get input from your users and if you don't think like a
user, you will fail.
- Design systems to fit people, don't design people to fit
systems. Machines, Web sites, and other systems are easier to change than the human
body and mind. The WebWord.com philosophy is that it is easier to design a
system (e.g. a Web site) than human flesh.
Good textbook definitions of human factors
- Human factors is the discipline that tries to optimize
the relationship between technology and the human (Kantowitz and Sorkin, 1983).
- The central approach of human factors is the application
of relevant information about human characteristics and behavior to the design of objects,
facilities, and environments that people use (Grandjean, 1980).
- The goal of human factors is to apply knowledge in
designing systems that work, accommodating the limits of human performance and exploring
the advantages of the human operator in the process (Wickens, 1984).
- Human factors discovers and applies information about
human behavior, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of tools,
machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for productive, safe, comfortable, and
effective human use (Chapanis, 1985).
Human factors goes well beyond what these definitions
state. Human factors engineers utilize many different approaches and they use
several techniques in their work. They come from all kinds of backgrounds and
capitalize on research from many disciplines (e.g., computer science, engineering,
anthropology, psychology, and software engineering).
Human factors engineers realize that they will never have
enough data to cover all the problems to be solved. The job is never done; a
system can always be improved. The idea of Kaizen ("continuous
improvement") is ingrained in our minds.
Is Human Factors "just common sense"?
No! Here's why...
- Common sense sucks! If human
factors principles are so easy to grasp, why are they always violated?
- Disasters continue to occur even with
superbly engineered systems (such as the 747 and Airbus aircraft); common sense in
engineering should prevent these "simple" problems
- People have great "common sense" in
their hindsight but not in their foresight
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that human factors is a data-based,
rigorous discipline with practitioners from a variety of backgrounds doing all kinds of
work. Making products, systems, and Web sites easier to use and easier to learn is
Human factors engineers can help you improve what you
have or what you will create. The earlier that human factors personnel can be
brought into the development cycle, the better. Human factors engineering
can speed up development and save you money. Better designed products,
systems, and Web sites yield happier customers, increased sales, and improved safety.
Want to know more?
- If you have questions or comments about WebWord.com's
brief introduction to Human Factors, let me know.
All feedback and questions are welcome.
- (Although this is a wickedly shameless plug), you can
John S. Rhodes, the WebWord.com Editor and Webmaster
(c)1998-99 by John S. Rhodes. All rights
Do not reproduce or redistribute any material from this document,
in whole or in part, without explicit written permission from John S. Rhodes.