Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Human Factors Engineering

Restructuring engineering curriculums to respond to end users demands, safety and health

In 1987, Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.

Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the engineers as to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, it is appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of the papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs.

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

Systems would become even more complex and testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.

So why not design anything right from the first time by being initiated and exposed to human capabilities and limitations, their safety and health?

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training is not explicitly directed toward them.

What is so incongruous with the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users?

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands?

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams?

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teach these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find outlet “debouches” in the marketplace for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and re-evaluating systems after the damages were done?

May be because the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to be part and parcel of the engineering practices?

Note: I am Not sure if this discipline Human Factors/Ergonomics is still a separate field in Engineering or has been integrated in all engineering disciplines.

From my experience in teaching a few courses at universities, I propose that courses in Experimental Design be an integral course in all engineering disciplines: students graduate without having a serious idea how to run “sophisticated” experiments or know how to discriminate among the independent variables, the dependent variables, the control variable…and how to interpret complex graphs.

“Did I choose to be a social designer?” And “Did the will and opportunity collide?”
My niece Joanna Choukeir Hojeily posted on FB:
“Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?
I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn’t exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?  I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn't exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
I replied:
“Your field existed since 1942 when designers tried to minimize the frequent pilot accidents in the air war with Germany. It was called industrial psychology, then industrial engineering, ergonomics, Human Factors in Engineering
The advent of fast computing, personal computing and fast graphics facilities shifted the trend to social graphic engineering or design…
It is the varied opportunities in developed countries that upgraded your passion for “social graphic design” projects: Giving priority to the health, safety and ease of use of products and services…”
I have posted about 50 articles on that topic in the category “Human Factors in Engineering”
I have in a previous article, in a short sentence that may have gone unnoticed, mentioned that the main objective of Human Factors in Engineering is designing interfaces between complex systems and targeted end users.
Modern days are an accumulation of very complex systems that societies can no longer live without and have to suffer their consequences in health, safety, comfort, risks or fatal accidents. 
Modern days rely on communications systems, on health care, on educational, on information, on transportation, on energy, on financial, on tourism, on diplomatic, and even on political systems.
Usually, there are purposes for establishing any system and the money generated could only be the consequences of satisfying human specific demands that a developed standard of living requires, or are encouraged through advertisements, or are initiated by new laws to regulating a society.
This modern world, more than in any previous centuries, is plagued with complex systems that are automated in many portions with no human understanding of how a system functions or can be repaired or be redesigned except a few rare professional experts.
These vast and very costly systems are created, assembled, maintained and run by different specialized personnel who have no serious interconnections among one another.
Every section of any system requires an interface with another section so that the end user can communicate with another section without any obligation to know or understand the details of the other section.
These interfaces have to be designed to be used with minimal skills, knowledge or special training.
Consumers require easy to use objects, safe objects, error free and accident free objects.
Consumers need to access these complex systems quickly, cheaply, without the requirement for extensive training or intermediate personnel to doing business or making the objects function according to their idiosyncrasies.
The Human Factors engineering discipline should be the application of the body of knowledge, information and facts about human abilities, limitations, (physical, mental and psychological) and characteristics to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human use.
The Human Factors engineering discipline is expected to direct its research toward practical design purposes and offer data that can be readily applied by engineers from different discipline”.
Here is a brief story of how I went about finishing my PhD dissertation.
My adviser had a business in forensic of accidents in workplace, safety consultancy and was focused on the lack of safety signs and pictorials since it was the rage of suing in consumer liability cases.
He proposed that I work on safety signs for my proposal and I didn’t feel hot about it: I sensed this topic was at best good enough for a Master’s thesis. The effects of safety signs were very short term, unless the system includes safety behaviors as an important part in the proper functioning of the corporation.
I recall that I worked for a year on a PhD proposal related to graphics of safety signs and pictorials. There were no personal computers and no graphic facilities. I toiled by hand.
My idea was to gather the used and adopted safety pictorials in many fields and try a taxonomy of elemental parts that designers could assemble in their jobs.  This proposal was killed by the team of advisers within half an hour of the session.
I tried another proposal related to cognitive engineering and it was not accepted. I was hooked to the cognitive field but my adviser would have none to do with cognition for my dissertation: he was not interested in such a field and it was not in his line of business.
To be fair, Dr. Purswell was more than patient with me and let me write two proposals related to cognition that both were turned down within a year.
I spent two years on idiosyncratic topics that my main advisor was not comfortable with, and I had no support system to guide me.
Two years earlier, my advisor told me: “Get on with my idea of a proposal. Get you degree and move on. At your age I had already three children...”
Two years earlier, one of my classmate obeyed the same advisor to the word and finished his dissertation (no experiment was conducted) and was accepted at a university as assistant professor, while I was toiling uselessly.
Finally, Dr. Purswell had to deliver an ultimatum or he would have no choice but to suspend my scholarships.
I was ordered to stop all part-time jobs. I obeyed and within a semester I wrote the proposal, designed the experiment, finished setting up the fictitious chemical lab and carried out several intelligence testing protocols just to divert the true objective from the over 120 “subjects”.
The subjects were mostly first year Psychology students because they are required to submit to experiments for credit-hours. That semester was hectic but a lot of fun.
The next semester was the worst of all semesters because I had to input thousands of data and read hundreds of pages of computer statistical results and the gruesome task of writing up my dissertation.
I had Dr. Schlegel in my advisory team and he forced me to use a specialized word processing program, simply because the print was professional and versatile. The problem was that no one could interpret the error in the program and fix it when I got stuck except him. I occasionally had to wait a couple of weeks to meet with him in order to untangle stupid word processing glitches.
By the time I submitted the final written copy I was totally depressed and I had erased from my mind any academic prospect.
To make matters worse, the US was experiencing a depressed market and universities had put a moratorium on hiring professors.
What a foreign PhD graduate with the wrong nationality and in a bad job market is to do to survive?
I asked for what I deserve. My temperament predicted this outcome.
I don’t complain in real life, but the blog is supposed to write about the oddities in life.

Human Factors Engineering? What do you design again? (April 5, 2005)

Article #8

Human Factors disciples are primarily oriented to designing interfaces between systems and end users/operators.  Of the many interfaces two interfaces are commonly known and can be grouped into two main categories: displays and controls.  But that is not all.

For example, designing the arrangements of displays and controls on consoles for utility companies, aircraft, trains, and automobiles according to applicable guidelines…

Operators and end users need to receive information on the status of a complex system and be able to respond to this information through a control device. Thus, once a designer knows what needs to be controlled in a system and how, then the required types of displays follow.

Displays and controls can become complex devices if not designed to targeted users.

The design of the cockpit interface in airplanes is different from cars, trains or ships.

The design or the interface in cellular phones is different from computer games or computer screens, keyboards and mouse.

A good knowledge of the physical and mental abilities and requirements of the target end-users are paramount in the design of any interface if efficiency, affordability, acceptability, maintainability, safety and health are the prerequisite to wide spread demands and marketability.

How the functions and tasks of any subsystems should be allocated, to human or to an automated machine?  What are the consequences in emergency situations for any allocation strategy?

What are the consequences of an allocation when a system is exported to Third World countries?

What are the consequences of function allocation to employment, safety risks, health risks and long term viability of any system?

Who usually are in charge of designing interfaces that require multidisciplinary knowledge?

Given that any of these designs require inputs from marketing experts, psychologists, sociologists, economists, engineers, statisticians and legal experts on the liabilities of these designed objects for safe and healthy usage then, who should be responsible for designing interfaces?

Teams of professionals should necessarily be involved in interface designs, but because time being of the essence in business competition, and cost to a lesser extent, many of these interfaces are relegated to engineers applying published standards or relying on personal experience and previous models from competitors.

Human Factors data on the physical and mental limitations and capabilities of target users should be part of any standard book for designing interfaces.

Human Factors methodologies need to be disseminated so that viable interfaces could fit the characteristics of the end users.

The Human Factors professionals failed in their first three decades of existence to recognize that their main purpose was to design interfaces, to design practical system, and to orient their research toward engineers who could readily use their data in designing systems.

If this trend of targeting engineers in our research papers continues, this profession could make a serious dent in sending the proper message and open up a market for the thousands of Human Factors graduates who should be needed in the design of systems interfaces.




January 2021

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