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Posts Tagged ‘Concept of Human Factors

Human Factors in Design

The term Design is all the rage.

Any professional in any field feels it imperative to add Design in the title.

Engineers, graphic professionals, photographers, dancers, environmentalists, climatologists, scientists… they all claim to be designers first.

And this is very refreshing.

Have you heard of this new field of Design Anthropology?

Dori Tunstall said in an interview with  Debbie Millman:

Design translate values into tangible experiences…Design can help make values such as equality, democracy, fairness, integration, connection…(values that we have lost to some extent), more tangible and express how we can use them to make the world a better place…”

Looks like Tunstall expanded the term design to overlap with the political realm of Congress jobs, law makers, political parties, election laws…

It is about time that everyone “think design” when undertaking any project or program

Anything we do is basically designed, explicitly or implicitly: Either we are generating products and programs for mankind, or it is mankind who is in charge of executing, controlling and managing what has been conceived.

So long as human are directly involved in using a product or a program, any design must explicitly study and research the safety, health, and mistakes that the operators and users will encounter.

Must as well that the design be as explicit in the attributes of health, safe usage, errors that might generate serious consequences, materially, mentally or physically.

Four decade ago, there was a field of study called Human Factors.

The term Human Factors was considered too general to be taken seriously in Engineering.

The implicit understanding was that “Of course, when an engineer designs anything, it is the human who is targeted….”

However, besides applying standards and mathematical formulas, engineers are the least concerned directly with the safety, health of users: The standards are supposed to take care of these superfluous attributes…

And who are the people concerned in setting standards?

Standards are arrived at in a consensus process between the politicians and the business people, and rarely the concerned users and consumers are invited to participate in the debate, except in later sessions when standards are already drafted…

And how explicitly experiments were designed to allow users to test, and give feedback to any kinds of standards, handed down from successive standard sets…?

Countless engineers and scientists are directly engaged in putting rovers on Mars and launching shuttles and… and the human in the project is taken for granted…

If you ask them whether they have human factors engineers in their teams, they don’t understand what you mean.

The project is supposed to be an engineering project, and “where the hell did you bring this human thing in the picture?”

Anything that is designed must consider the health, safety, and how a person from various ages, genders, and ethnic idiosyncracies might use the product or the program

Take all the time in design process. People are not supposed to be used as ginea pigs for any redesigned process… after countless lawsuits, pains, suffering…

This is a preliminary draft. Any input and replies?


 “What other taxonomies are necessary in HF and what methods are used?”

Article #13; (April 10, 2005) 

The follow up question is: how can we conceive practical human error taxonomy before working taxonomies for the tasks required in a system?  If the types and skills required by an operators to perform a set of tasks are not well defined and studied then, it is not that useful to apply a complex and general error taxonomy that does not delineate the applicable domain. 

How can we allocate functions to either operators or machines, which means how can we decided who is better at performing a set of tasks an automated machine or a trained operator, if we cannot classify the human capabilities and limitations versus the potential capabilities and limitations of the machine we intend to design?

The current technology can automate the travel of airplanes from take off, to cruising and to landing without the need of a pilot. The obvious problem is who in his right mind would board an airplane without a certified pilot and a co-pilot?

It seems that in Japan, fast trains have no train pilot aboard but are controlled before reaching destinations.  In this case, passengers are taking these trains but would rather be doubly secured by having trained pilots on board no matter the extremely high safety records of these automated trains.

Nowadays, most of these functions and task allocations are done by computer programs with the hope that an expert professional is going to take serious time to analyze the printouts and provide a judicious human feedback. These computer programs have, crossing our fingers, the necessary constraints on safety standards, health standards, serious errors restrictions and labor requirements for the least.

This is not a futile reasoning on who comes first, the error taxonomy or task taxonomy because the consequences are not that futile on operators, end users and the whole performance of systems.  

When it comes to designing complex systems practical task and error taxonomies that delineate the domain of the operation and execution of a system is evident and time is of the essence.

In the next article I am going to let you have a hand at classifying methods by providing you with a list of various Human Factors methods.  This list of methods is not necessarily randomized but thrown in without much order; otherwise it will not be an excellent exercise. 

First, let us agree that a method is a procedure or a set of step by step process that our for runners of genius and scholars have tested, found it good, agreed on it on a consensus basis and offered it for you to use for the benefit of progress and science. 

Many of you will still try hard to find short cuts to anything, including methods, for the petty argument that the best criterion to discriminating among clever people is who waste time on methods and whom are nerds.

Actually, the main reason I don’t try to teach new methods in this course is that students might smack run into a real occupational stress which they are not immune of.

Learning information in a thousand page course materials is one thing but having to use completely new methods as how to design, conduct and run experiments and statistically analyze data for a system behavior would be too much of a stress and diligent students might go overboard and straight to a mental rehabilitation institution.

What are error taxonomies, and other taxonomies in Human Factors in Engineering?

Article #12, written in April 9, 2005)

May you allow me just a side explanation on experimentation, to set the foundations first?

Psychologists, sociologists and marketing graduates are trained to apply various experimentation methods and not just cause and effect designs.

There are many statistical packages oriented to providing dimensions and models to the set of data dumped into the experiment, so that a preliminary understanding of the system behavior is comprehended qualitatively.

Every applied science has gone through many qualitative models or schema, using various qualitative methods, before attempting to quantify their models.

Many chairmen of engineering departments, especially those who have no understanding of the disciple of Human Factors in engineering and would never touch this body of knowledge and methods with a long pole, ask me to concentrate my courses on the quantitative aspects.

That hint sends immediate shiver through my rebellious spirit and I am tempted to ask them “what taxonomy of methods are you using in teaching engineering courses?”

What taxonomies Human Factors have to conceive?  How about the classification of human errors when operating a system, their frequencies and consequences on the safety of operators and system performance?

Human Factors professionals attempted to establish various error taxonomies, some within a specific context, during their study and analysis of errors that might be committed in the operation of nuclear power plants for example, and other taxonomy that are out of any specific context.

One alternative classification of human errors is based on human behavior and the level of comprehension. Mainly, skill-based, or rule-based or knowledge-based behavioral patterns.

This taxonomy identifies 13 types of errors and discriminates among the stages and strength of controlled routines in the mind that precipitate the occurrence of an error, whether during execution of a task, omitting steps, changing the order of steps, sequence of steps, timing errors, inadequate analysis or decision-making.

With a strong knowledge of the behavior of a system, provided that the mental model is not deficient, applying the rules consistently most of the errors will be concentrated on the level of skill achieved in performing a job.

Another taxonomy rely on the theory of information processing and it is a literal transcription of the experimental processes; mainly, observation of a system status, choice of hypothesis, testing of hypothesis, choice of goal, choice of procedure and execution of procedure.  Basically, this taxonomy may answer the problems in the rule-based and knowledge–based behavior.

It is useful to specify in the final steps of taxonomy whether an error is of omission or of commission.  I suggest that the errors of commission be also fine tuned to differentiate among errors of sequence, the kind of sequence, and timing of the execution.

There are alternative strategies for reducing human errors by either training, selection of the appropriate applicants, or redesigning a system to fit the capabilities of end users and/or taking care of his limitations by preventive designs, exclusion designs, and fail-safe designs.

Article #2

“Sorry, did you say Human Factors engineering?” (February 20, 2005)

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you. You said that your emphasis was on Human Factors engineering?”

“Wow, do you split genes and factor them in and out the DNA chain?”

“Are you involved in cloning human beings?”

“Could you improve my deficiencies?”

“Can you make me physically attractive and less prone to sicknesses and diseases?”

Negative! Human Factors engineering is interchangeably called Ergonomics which is composed of two Greek words meaning the measurement of work.

As you might know, if this discipline does not involve measurements it would not have been categorized as engineering.

Its main purpose is designing practical interfaces between complex systems and the end users, whether consumers, engineers, workers or employees in order to eliminate human errors.

Again, if these interface designs are not practical, then we would hardly categorize this field as engineering.

I also agree with you that most engineers hate to perform any kind of measurements as much as they hate reading.

Actually, my graduate courses were not restricted to engineering; they were multidisciplinary because I had to take graduate courses in the departments of marketing, economics, and psychology.

If you are interested I might clarify that most of my graduate courses were targeted to statistical modeling for designing and analyzing experiments involving workers and consumers.

This general course in Human factors will initiate you on a few concepts.

It will teach you how to study the risks and errors in the system and deficiency in products that could lead to fatal accidents or serious injuries.

Most of the time, near misses of accidents predominate because of the reflexes, flexibility and capabilities of human to cope and adapt, but ultimately, these missed accidents will occur if no preventive actions are taken or preempting redesigns are ordered on the system.

When accidents happen, this time around, it is because of the limitations and deficiencies of the human for not redesigning the interface, retraining, or revisiting the processes.

This course will encourage you to connect well with employees and workers, to know their predicaments at work, to care for their health from repetitive trauma disorders, or unwarranted shift work schedules, to provide guidelines for handling loads, to insist on placing warning signs in dangerous areas and hazardous machine parts, to make sure that employees notice the signs and instructions and abide by them.

It will ask you to get concerned and investigate the causes of the high rate of turnovers, the increase in absenteeism, or the lack of motivation in performing quality work.

It will teach you methods to design inference experiments, preferably involving employees and workers, in order to study the causes and effects of a problem that is plaguing productivity and profitability.

This approach is important because mathematical modeling of human behavior is at best inadequate and fraught with untenable assumptions.

This course will insist on the concept that the best approach to minimizing pains and health problems, originating from the workplace, is to redesign a faulty system, mechanically and organizationally.

You will be reminded, frequently, that testing and evaluation of systems should consider the fact that employees work at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for many years.

The course will warn you that an optimum system performance, tested for a period of just a few minutes or hours, may turn out to be catastrophic and a worst case scenario in the long run.

You will learn the capabilities and limitations of humans both physically and mentally. This knowledge will enhance the design of systems and their interfaces that function well for the humans, a system that will eliminate awkward training to fit humans to a badly designed system.




September 2022

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