The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics

The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics

The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics

The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics


Human factors/ergonomics (HFE) as a discipline has grown by accretions rather than having been developed systematically and deliberately. Therefore, this book's goal creates a formal conceptual structure for HFE. It is intended as a contribution to cultural history because (a) ours is a technological civilization, and (b) one cannot understand technology outside of the various disciplines that make up that technology. A disciplinary history is highly specialized, but the author maintains that HFE is distinctive in being the only discipline that relates humans to technology. Other behavioral disciplines like anthropology have little connection with technology, and this is what makes HFE important in the present historical era.


The structure of a discipline consists of its elements, its parameters, and the assumptions underlying it. These are global concepts. At a more detailed level, there are also a large number of variables whose interaction creates the phenomena with which HFE is concerned. There are also (or should be) hypotheses about these variable interactions that drive the research performed to investigate HFE phenomena.

Chapter 1 defines the HFE elements and parameters; chapter 2 deals with its assumptions; chapter 3 deals with the system as a fundamental HFE construct. Subsequent chapters describe the formal and informal history of the discipline, its research characteristics, what HFE practitioners do on the job, and some of the more important specialty areas.

Of course, the critical HFE elements are the human and the technology with which he or she interacts. These serve as the basis for the discipline, which is considered a science and possesses certain characteristics that are of interest to us. This originally homogeneous discipline progressively subdivides into specialties. The discipline/science has utility because its application to practical questions results in usable products. As a dynamic process, the discipline also has a history, which is the subject of this book. The building blocks of HFE are its systems, which are organizations of hardware (machines, tools, equipment, software) and humans. A critical HFE element is the system development process. The principles that guide or should guide the behavioral design of these systems are created by research. HFE professionals include both those who perform that research and those who assist in the system development process; these latter are called practitioners.

As part of research and system development, measurement of phenomena produces data and conclusions; when combined correctly, these produce the database on which the discipline relies for its knowledge. This knowledge is represented primarily in the form of publications.

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