Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Human factors and applied psychology

Some practical definitions ...

"How come I can't open the medicine bottle?

Which nob turns off the stove and which way do I turn it?

Why are ATM machines so hard to operate?

These seemingly unrelated questions also fall under the general heading of human factors or applied psychology. This can also be referred to as engineering psychology or ergonomics.

While not a new area of study by any means, advances in technology over the past few years (even the past year) has lead to an increase in how products are designed and how we function (or try to function) in a more technologically-advanced society. Essentially, how are humans factored into the equation of how systems, products and services are set-up, executed and accomplished?

Some would argue that the technological advances are coming too fast and society has not adequately caught up (e.g., how many of you still cannot program your VCR?). Others would argue that society is adapting too slowly to the rapid advances in technology and that, as a result, society is doomed.

Whatever perspective you endorse, there is a great need in our society to ensure that the end user (the human) can successfully open the medicine bottle, turn on (or off) the correct burner element on the stove, or operate the ATM. Speed and accuracy are also prime areas of concern, but as the old maxim states, haste makes waste. Being too fast and making a lot of mistakes (taking three tries to master the ATM) is not ideal, nor is taking a lot of time to open a medicine bottle.

There needs to be a middle ground where the human is successful and the technology works as planned. Actually, mistakes are good as they often times result in improvements to the product or system in mind. These revisions also take into account an important aspect of human factors and that is individual differences. Consider adjustable seats in automobiles. Many accidents happened because seats were not adjustable so the small framed person (or the large framed person) could not adjust the seat to their desired level. This results in awkward product operation and, in turn, raises the risk of an accident.

The ultimate goal of human factors and applied psychology are to make the environment (whatever that may be) as user friendly and as efficient as possible with minimal room for error and maximum design and use. These are lofty goals, but human factors and applied psychology are two of the fastest growth industries worldwide."    (Continued via Grand Forks Herald)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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