Human Factors

Human factors psychology is an interdisciplinary field which discovers and applies information about human behavior, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design and evaluation of products, systems, jobs, tools, and environments for enhancing productive, safe, and comfortable human use. Psychologists in human factors apply their knowledge of human perceptual and cognitive processes to improve system performance and develop more effective human-machine interfaces. The focus of Human Factors is on the person as the central component of human-product-environment systems. Human Factors is not clinical, counseling or personnel psychology. Emphasis is not placed on individuals and their psychological problems.

History

Human Factors (also known as human factors psychology, ergonomics, or human engineering) emerged during World War II. Many new and complicated weapons were ineffective because they exceeded the capacities of their human operators. From this research came studies of human performance, information presentation, control actions, workspace arrangement, and user skills. Designers began to realize the importance of incorporating the characteristics of the "user" into their designs.

Since the 1960's, Human Factors research and development has spread throughout many diverse fields, including: space systems; commercial, medical and office settings; consumer products; entertainment; education; and computer and information systems.

What Human Factors Specialists Do

Human Factors specialists conduct research and analysis to accomplish objectives such as:

  • Design products for improved safety and ease of use
  • Designing systems to accommodate specific user groups
  • Improving information displays to reduce human error
  • Raising productivity by improving human performance
  • Lowering the cost of training programs
  • Reducing the incident and damage caused by human error
  • Re-designing products to make them safer and easier to use
  • Improving work environments to make them more acceptable to employees
  • Designing work stations and developing procedures to increase productivity and reduce fatigue

Where Human Factors Specialists Work

Human Factors can be applied to virtually any area that involves people, machines, products, and environments. Human Factors specialists contribute to the design and evaluation of everything from toothbrushes to nuclear power plants, from automobiles to spacecraft, from hammers to robots, from calculators to computers, and from watches to software. Human Factors specialists conduct research, perform analyses, make recommendations, and are employed by:

  • The Federal Government in housing, transporation, and defense
  • Private corporations in the aerospace, computer, consumer product, telecommunications, entertainment, and automotive industries
  • Research consulting firms in contract work sponsored by private industry and all levels of government