Human Factors 
Potomac Chapter

What is Human Factors & What Do We Do?

Human factors is the engineering discipline that uses a systems approach to fit tasks to human capabilities and skills while optimizing technology and human interactions. It also has the goal of minimizing error and injury. Although human factors input for product designs is becoming more accepted, the recent past is fraught with examples of systems that require the user to adapt to the system design rather than a system design-adapted to suit the user. Everyday life is affected by this unsatisfactory approach. Just think about some of the VCR programming tasks on remote controllers, some of your automobile diagnostic repair problems or setting up and using a business or personal computer. Human factors is also called human factors engineering, ergonomics, human engineering, and applied cognitive science. Multiple terms are used to describe the skills applied to the designing and developing of systems and their products so that the results are user-centered, and not equipment-centered.

Why Use Human Factors?

The motivation for using human factors engineering as a part of every new technological development is simple. It saves money, lowers operational errors and increases the likelihood of success. Our technological future will depend on our ability to compete in a world economy. Usability as well as reliability will be key in maintaining our technical competitive status in engineering products.

In our near future, human - machine interfaces may change dramatically. The information explosion will be transported to more and more people. Virtual reality approaches promise new simulation platforms and new entertainment media at the very least. Those that are able to master these and other, as yet undiscovered, technical environments, and place the human in not only efficient but comfortable and safe control, will dominate future global markets.

When Should You Use Human Factors?

The human factors engineering process is intertwined with the entire engineering process. It is a complementary systems engineering approach from the perspective of the user. It starts with mission and activity analyses during design and carries through to the production stage with failure mode analyses, operational sequence analyses, workload assessments and risk analyses. During these processes, there is an underlying goal to minimize or eliminate training requirements to promote usability. Human factors engineering methods do not stop with the fielding of a system but continue in the critical role of training personnel for maintenance and repair.

The human factors engineering specialist is most valuable in the early design stages of a project when the functional requirements are being determined. These requirements are what shape the final usability for the user or operator for which the system or product is being designed. The same specialist can propose changes to improve a completed design that the user can't use effectively or doesn't like, but this need for redesign frequently occurs when the appropriate human factors talent and consideration of the users or operators of the product were omitted in the beginning. Designing in usability is an early quality goal of any design.

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