Wearing Your Human Factors Spectacles

Posted · 22,138 Comments

Think of all the times in a day that you interact with something that was designed for human use. To show just how many interactions we have daily, I made a list of some of them. It includes: a Keurig coffee machine, a dishwasher, a car dashboard, an iPhone, a paper towel dispenser, a soap dispenser, a trashcan, a few doors, a TV remote, a treadmill, a stovetop, and a laundry machine. These human-technology or human-system interactions are all around us during our everyday lives. Sometimes these interactions can be frustrating, like pulling a door that should be pushed. Other times, interactions can be so smooth and efficient that they delight the user. For example, I recently purchased a touchless, motion sensor trashcan made by Simplehuman. Throwing away my trash is now easier, more efficient, and more fun! There is a scientific discipline devoted to the study of these human-machine interactions. It is called human factors.

Human factors professionals evaluate the interaction between humans and systems to enhance performance, improve safety, and increase user satisfaction. Human factors is all around us, whether you see it or not. You do not need to be a professional to appreciate human factors. The purpose of this blog is to open your eyes to the world of human factors or user experience (UX) design.

We should all become keen observers of products or systems designed for human use. If you run into a good or bad design, take a picture of it! Maybe make a folder on your phone of these photos. If you are a designer, engineer, or human factors professional you can learn a lot from what is all around you. Take note of what is done well so you can be inspired by it later on. Take note of what is not done well to ensure it never gets repeated. Even if you are not a designer, engineer, or human factors professional, you too can benefit from this advice. With your human factors spectacles on as you go about your daily routine, you will begin to notice the subtle aspects of good and bad design.

Speaking of bad design, the photos below are from my personal design folder.


This toilet is so poorly designed that it needs instructions on how to flush

Norman Door

The horizontal bar on this door implies push, so a homemade sign needed to be made to tell the user pull.






Examples of good design are somewhat harder to recognize because we usually do not notice products or systems that work the way we expect them to. The interaction can be so smooth and seamless that the design gets overlooked. Below is simple example of a well-executed design. If you have ever had to put folding headphones in a case, you know that sometimes it can be frustrating getting the orientation correct. Bose does a nice job of avoiding this problem by impressing the correct orientation on the inside of the case.

This design makes putting away my headphones easier and more efficient.

This design makes putting away my headphones easier and more efficient.

Hopefully these pictures give you an idea of the kinds of things you see when wearing your human factors spectacles. The impact of human factors is all around us.  It’s a part of every interaction we have with the hundreds of objects, systems, and devices we come into contact with in our day-to-day lives.  It’s easy to be blind to those moments of interaction, but if we wear our human factors spectacles more often, we will see, learn and appreciate the impact human factors can have on our quality of life.

If you found this to be interesting, I encourage you to read works by Don Norman (Design of Everyday Things, Emotional Design, or Design of Future Things). He is the inspiration behind this post.



Kevin Merle is an intern at Boston Human Factors, Inc. This is his first blog.  Kevin is a human factors undergraduate student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.  Kevin is excited about the type of activities that human factors experts get involved with, and believes working in this profession will be the way he can make a significant impact on people’s lives. Kevin’s ultimate interest is applying human factors to space. He hopes to one day work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center or a commercial space company.

If you enjoyed Kevin’s pictures and want to see more, this is a link to his Instagram account.

Comments are closed.