only human

human factors and psychology stuff for anyone interested in making things easier, safer and more enjoyable to use

Thursday, August 25, 2005 

What the hell is Human Factors?

Whoa Nelly, hold up, you’re going too fast

Ok, maybe I’ve jumped the gun a bit. Let me try and break down this tricky little sucker for you.

Human Factors, as the name kind of suggests, focuses upon the human within a system. A system can be anything from the more simple ones like a kettle, or your computer workstation, to much more complex ones like the cockpit of a plane or a nuclear reactor control room. In general, a Human Factors person will look at all aspects of the human’s interaction with the system in an attempt to make sure the system takes into account human strengths and weaknesses.

Part of the reason that the term Human Factors is so difficult to break down is because it is a collection of specialisms including cognitive psychology, ergonomics, human-computer interaction, occupational psychology and safety. I’ll break these terms down individually another time.

Now, I’m not sure if that made a lot of sense to you so let me try an example. Take the design of a new emergency services call centre. Human Factors people would be called in to help design the room layout to determine the best position for desks to facilitate communication amongst teams. They may also be involved in selecting appropriate office furniture taking into account ergonomic requirements. Once the control room is designed, they may look at working procedures, the design of any software and hardware to be used by the operators, and possibly how to train users appropriately.

As you can see that’s quite a lot of work and a hell of a lot of knowledge needed therefore very few people can provide all those skills. So to be a human factors person, or even interested in it, you will always need to learn more, and that’s where this blog comes in. I'll try to pick out all the interesting and relevant news, articles, comment and essays from all the specialist areas that make up Human Factors. If there's anything specific you want me to focus on, let me know.

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