Human Factors

The role of human factors in product design

A primer on what, how and when the discipline of human factors is used in the design and development of products.

What are Human Factors Design and Ergonomics?

Human factors design and ergonomics basically mean the same thing—the study of the interactions between human beings and the tools, tasks, and environments of work and everyday living.

Human Factors Engineers strive to produce designs that better meet the capabilities, limitations, and needs of the people who use them. Our work intersects with industrial designers, UX designers and design engineers. Not only does our work improve user experiences, it can help prevent injuries and user error.

I look at ergonomics in two ways—from the neck up and from the neck down.

From the neck down, it’s about our anatomy and our physiology. It’s also about our biomechanics, which combines our physiology with engineering principals to understand what people can physically achieve.

From the neck up, it’s about cognition, psychology, and mental workload. If we understand how our senses take in stimuli and how our brains are hardwired to react to those stimuli, then we can use that knowledge to present information—whether it’s digital information or cues on a physical product—in a way that allows someone to better detect, understand, and act on it.

We try to blend the mind and body to look at the complete user experience of different processes.

Human Factors vs Ergonomics

Although they do mean the same thing, and experts will use the terms interchangeably, I personally prefer the term human factors engineering because the word ergonomics has become an adjective. "That office chair is ergonomic." It’s a buzzword for “comfortable,” but that’s not what the word means at all.

Ergonomics is a study. It’s a scientific endeavor based on empirical facts. Ergonomists don’t say, “I feel this is the most comfortable;” they study and measure outcomes to make their conclusions.

The presentation below is a primer on what Human Factors Engineers do with some examples from our practice at Delve (then Design Concepts) that was webcast as part of a live event.

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