Designing for users

This topic includes the following:

  • Human Factors Engineering (HFE): the application of human factors knowledge to the design of things that people use or interact with.
  • Work design: addresses the cognitive, psychological, physical and biomechanical characteristics of work. When work is not designed according to the capabilities, limitations and needs of people, it can lead to physical harm, psychological harm and/or a decrease in human performance.
  • The working environment: designing environmental aspects such as lighting, thermal comfort, working space, noise and vibration.
  • Anthropometrics: designing workplaces and equipment in relation to body size and postural considerations. This analysis would typically consider clearances (e.g., head room, knee room), reach (e.g., the location of controls with respect to the seated position) and posture (e.g., determining the height of a working surface).
  • Interfaces and Alarms: to facilitate accurate, timely and effective human interaction with complex systems.

Why is “designing for users” important?

“…operators tend to be the inheritors of pathogens created by poor design, incorrect installation, faulty maintenance, inadequate procedures and management decisions…the operators’ part is usually that of adding the final garnish to a lethal brew that has been long in the cooking”

“Human error”, James Reason, 1990

Human performance relies to a large extent on the design of systems, tasks, equipment, workplaces, control rooms and so on. Taking into account human characteristics, capabilities and limitations in the design of systems and products will improve human performance – reducing accidents and ill-health, as well as improving productivity.

Good design reduces our reliance on human memory, prevents inadvertent operations, avoids confusion and is intuitive for all users, reducing the need for training.

“Set people up to succeed” through good design

Setting people up to succeed (rather than to fail) can be achieved by following three key principles:

  1. Design things so it’s easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing (and make ‘wrong’ things noticeable so that they can be recovered from)
  2. Ensure all potential ‘end-users’ are involved in design
  3. Consider the capabilities, strengths, limitations and needs of users.