Human factors have come to increased prominence in recent years. This is manifest in a number of ways: one is the ever expanding literature relating to human-factors issues, including books and journals, and even magazine and newspaper articles; another is the number of international conferences and seminars dedicated to human-factors issues. Examples of the latter include the Ergonomics Society Conference in the UK and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Conference in the USA. However, perhaps the most important reflection on how seriously human-factors issues are now being taken is the sharp increase in human-factors professionals employed in industry. In particular, human factors are being taken increasingly seriously as an issue within product design. Industrial design departments within most major companies and design consultancies now employ a number of specialists charged with ensuring that product designs fit the needs of those who will use the products. In addition, professionals such as industrial designers and software designers are increasingly expected to have an awareness of human-factors issues and to put them at the centre of the design process.
This has not always been the case. Indeed, the level of integration of human factors within design seems to have gone through three distinct phases, as follows.
Going back fifteen to twenty years, few manufacturing organisations employed human-factors specialists, even amongst the larger companies, and those that did were likely to be involved in defence work. Certainly, human factors were not much of a consideration for companies making consumer products.