Human Factors in Consumer Products

By Neville Stanton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

Product design with people in mind

NEVILLE STANTON

Department of Psychology, University of Southampton


1.1 What are Human Factors and Ergonomics?

Engineering is concerned with improving products from the point of view of mechanical and electrical design, and psychology is concerned with the study of the mind and behaviour. Human factors and ergonomics are concerned with adapting products to people, based upon their physiological and psychological capacities and limitations (Blum, 1952), the objective being to improve overall system performance (involving human and product elements). As Sanders and McCormick (1987) put it, 'it is easier to bend metal than twist arms', by which they mean that the design of the device to prevent errors is likely to be more successful than telling people not to make errors when using a device. The overall objectives of ergonomics and human factors are to optimise the effectiveness and efficiency with which human activities are conducted as well as to improve the general quality of life through 'increased safety, reduced fatigue and stress, increased comfort [and]…satisfaction.' (Sanders and McCormick, 1992, p. 4). It is difficult to delineate the genesis of human factors and ergonomics, but both can be traced back to a general interest in problems at munitions factories during the First World War (Oborne, 1982). Machines that were designed to be operated by men seemed to have production-related problems when operated by women. These difficulties were resolved when it was realised that the problems were related to equipment design rather than the people operating them, i.e. they were designed to be operated by men and not women. The misreading of altimeters by pilots in the Second World War stimulated further interest in human factors and ergonomics. A study by Grether (1949) illustrated that not only did pilots take over 7 seconds to interpret the traditional three-needle altimeter (where the three pointers read

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