What Is Human Factors?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Human factors, the intersection of psychology and engineering, plays a vital role in crafting user-friendly technology, forming an essential component of the user design process.

[Featured Image] A group of employees discuss incorporating human factors into their products.

Human factors is the area of study that focuses on how humans behave and interact with technology and equipment. Think of it as a combination of engineering and psychology. Many career fields use human factors, including user experience (UX) designers. While basic human factors involve making sure technology is usable when humans interact with it, UX designers ensure it is also satisfying and pleasing to use.

With help from the International Organization for Standardization, human factors UX design principles often include [1]:

  • Physical ergonomics: This involves creating a physically comfortable product that is easy to interact with, such as a smartwatch that fits comfortably on a person's hand.

  • Physical characteristics: Physical characteristics and ergonomics go hand-in-hand. For example, this might involve creating a smartwatch that is a certain weight so that it's easy to hold and handle.

  • Specific operations: This involves making sure that a certain task someone performs is easy to do. For example, if you must use your finger to press a button on a smartwatch, the button must be the correct size so that you don't accidentally click something else.

  • Cognitive load: Cognitive load involves the capacity people have for learning a new task. When designing a new product, designers may think about cognitive load to determine how much a person needs to learn to use it.

  • Controllability: Users should always be in control of any technology they use rather than feeling like the technology is controlling them. You can do this in several ways, such as adding personalization options or through operations like “pause,” “stop,” and “play.”

  • Comfort and familiarity: Over time, as users become more familiar and comfortable with certain aspects of technology, they come to expect them with little to no change. Designers must be careful not to introduce too many changes at once when improving or creating a new product.

  • Efficiency: Efficiency involves making tasks as quick and easy to complete as possible. For example, if a user can complete a task in three steps rather than five, a designer should strive to make that possible.

  • Consistency: Consistency means that a product's design should be the same throughout the user's experience. For example, an app should look similar on a mobile device and a laptop or desktop. This principle applies to both internal and external consistency.

  • Mental models: Mental models involve what a user thinks or understands to be true about a product. Designers often consider whether the user's perception of how the product works matches the actual functionality of the product.

  • Error management: This involves preventing users from making critical errors. For example, an app might include an “undo” button or incorporate “Are you sure?” messaging after the user selects a command.

Related terms

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Article sources

  1. International Organization of Standardization. “ISO 9241-210:2019 Ergonomics of human-system interaction https://www.iso.org/standard/77520.html” Accessed September 1, 2023.

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