Adonis Diaries

What’s that concept of Human Factors in design? (Continue)

Posted on: October 8, 2008

Article #19

“What this general course in Human Factors covers?” (April 12, 2005)


One course in Human Factors is offered in the school of engineering and architecture.  It is a required course for industrial engineers in order to satisfy the accreditation requirements in the some of the USA universities. I am under the impression that no professor, associate or assistant professor in the university has taken a single Human Factors course.

Before I was asked to teach this course that no one would touch with a long pole a mechanical engineering associate professor tried his hand at it for may be one or two semesters.  Apparently it was a nightmare for him and preferred to concentrate on the environmental aspects in the workplaces: namely, noise, lighting, heat and temperature. 

These topics were very much in the liking of the students and the teacher too and convenient since they fitted nicely within general engineering topics with plenty of computation and quantitative sources. These topics could as well give an engineering impact to match the name of the course Human Factors in Engineering.

This fact was impressed on the chairman of the department and for many years considered the environmental factors to be the sin qua of the Human Factors discipline.

I admit that as a part-timer my public relation was poor and I had fleeting contact with the full timers and did not try hard to educate the concerned parties to the other facets of the discipline.  I also admit that the Human Factors professionals failed in sending the right message to the engineering practitioners. 

Originally, the Human Factors association comprised also industrial psychologists and ergonomics professionals.  Many of the associates were more interested in basic research and new methods that did not target directly the engineering practitioners. Most of the research papers were evaluation of already outdated inventions and could not keep pace with the new technologies dumped on the market.

In the 90’s a few professionals sounded the alarm and tried to redirect the focus for the research papers; they explicitly emphasized that Human Factors is a design profession and mainly designing interfaces between complex systems and end users. The end users could be workers, employees, engineers or consumers of products. The purpose of these designed interfaces was to permit ease of use, efficient and comfortable use for long duration, safe usage in a healthy environment. These practical professionals insisted that research papers should be oriented toward practical engineering demands for readily available data that could be applied in designing systems that fit human operators within their capabilities and limitations.

I put together a course material of a thousand pages. It is a terrible nightmare for students who practically never read but they should be skilled in circumventing arduous hurdles in learning. The materials were divided in four parts: part one is called basics in designing for people, part two is named physical applications and methods, part three is about the environmental and organizational factors in workplaces and part four covers the cognitive(mental) applications and methods. In our age of information processing and communication the cognitive aspects (memory, idiosyncrasies, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, and psychophysical measurements among others) of Human Factors interface designs should be allocated a course by itself but it is not bad to try.

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October 2008

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