Why is Human Factors Engineering Important?
If I were to recommend any one book on the topic, it is The Design of Everyday Things, otherwise known as The Psychology of Everyday Things. This single book with two titles was written by cognitive scientist Donald Norman. My Cliffs Notes version of the book in one sentence is: “It’s not user error, it’s use error.”
When a product is improperly used, or when a process is improperly followed, resulting in an unwanted outcome; it is often the user that takes the blame. Norman’s book is a master class in psychology and design that puts the spotlight on the product or process itself as the culprit.
In medical devices, the unwanted outcome from improper use can result in harm to the user. In any commercial product, at a minimum, unwanted outcomes impact user satisfaction and ultimately sales of the product. HFE is not just a must mandated by regulatory bodies, it is a smart business decision.
Human Factors Engineering considers all the ways a user interacts with a product. This might include cognitive factors, such as memory capacity, multitasking and reaction time. It involves product design features that may inform how an item is used, such as colors and other indications, for example impressions that indicate hand placement.
When it comes to machine form design, a human factors study would look at ingress and egress from the vehicle, operator line of sight for key vehicle functionality, control location zones, and comfort zones across a range of anthropometric measurements. The design of the instrument control panel should be aware of existing mental models (flip the light switch up to turn on) in order to appear intuitive. It is worth noting here that mental models can vary across cultures. What may seem intuitive in one region of the world would be confusing elsewhere. For example, what side of the road should you drive on?
In the development of the ALTR ERGO Adjustable width bicycle saddle, the Trig team conducted a competitive ergonomic analysis of leading bicycle seats. The resulting insights led to in-depth understanding of how the shape of the saddle impacts the comfort for the rider. We were able to take those insights to design a saddle that could be ergonomically comfortable across a range of anthropometric widths as the seat material deforms. It's a fascinating case study in finding ergonomic fit for riders of all sizes.
The bottom line: the product itself should promote proper use and result in desired outcomes. Nobody gets hurt and it’s a joy to use.