In general, Human Factors is the study of human (body and mind) interaction with technology and work environments.
- Human Factors is concerned with the application of what we know about people, their (perceptual, cognitive, physical) abilities, characteristics, and limitations to the design of equipment they use, environments in which they function, and jobs they perform.
- Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. Ergonomists contribute to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people. (via Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES))
Human Factors is a multidisciplinary field incorporating contributions from psychology, cognitive science, physiology, computer science, engineering, industrial design, statistics and anthropometry. Human Factors Engineers and Psychologists attempt to bridge the gap between these disciplines to better understand how humans interact with technology.
Human Factors psychologists examine a wide range of topics through basic and applied research and through direct involvement in the design and development process:
- How sensory systems, perception, attention, memory, and decision making impact human interaction with technology
- Training and learning with virtual environments, simulators, and games
- Human computer interaction (HCI) issues such as display, control and interface design
- Human robot interaction (HRI) issues such as trust, compliance, safety, and training
- Automation and function allocation of autonomous systems
- Biometrics, physiology and anthropometrics in workplace design
- Cognitive workload and situation awareness
- The impact of stress and fatigue on performance at work
- Technology mediated teamwork issues and distributed work environments
- Alarm design, reliability, compliance and trust
Some organizations view Human Factors as a checkbox to complete at the end of a product/system design and development life cycle. Implementing human factors methods and considering the user throughout (and early in) the design and development process can reduce error, stress, and fatigue, increase safety, comfort, convenience, efficiency, system reliability, and productivity, and improve quality of life and satisfaction. Human Factors professionals can improve the human-technology-environment interaction through design, training and selection, by augmenting tasks with aids and supplements, and by removing impediments from the work environment and equipment.
You can read more about current advances in Human Factors research in any Human Factors publication and by following blogs like these:
- The Daily Human Factor – David Kidd, Peter Squire, and David Cades
- The Human Factor Advocate – Eric Shaver
- Human Factors – Marc Resnick
- The Human Factors Blog - Richard Pak and Anne Collins McLaughlin
- Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human perception and performance (feed)
User Experience (UX)
User experience design (UX) focuses on the user throughout the design and development process. UX includes traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design techniques such as usability and prototyping, but it also addresses other aspects of a user’s interaction with various technologies such as marketing.
You can learn more about UX by visiting the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) formerly known as Usability Professionals Association. Usability.gov also provides an excellent overview of UX.
Industrial/ Organizational (I/O) Psychology
When I started my graduate education, my intention was to go into I/O psychology. I wanted to study training, selection, and leadership. Those research areas were shaped into a more direct focus on the implications of using technology in the workplace, specifically for training.
I/O and Human Factors also overlap substantially and share a common history. The Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology definition of I-O Psychology:
The scientific study of the workplace. Rigor and methods of psychology are applied to issues of critical relevance to business, including talent management, coaching, assessment, selection, training, organizational development, performance, and work-life balance. I-O psychologists are experts in understanding and developing systems for hiring, motivating, training, and understanding people at work. They develop tests, promotion systems, and surveys. They engage in coaching, team building, survey analysis, job analysis, organization design, etc. The products and programs they create will often have a significant impact on the people in an organization and may impact the performance of the organization.