"Human Factors" angle on our field

11 May 2007 - 11:30am
7 years ago
3 replies
413 reads
Billie Mandel
2005

Happy Friday all -

At risk of opening the "defining the damn thing" can of moray eels, I
have a related question for you:

Assumption: Design people - even good ones - can come from an
interaction design background/angle, a front end developer angle, an
information architecture angle or an HCI angle, among others. It's
pretty easy for me to relate to/evaluate/learn from/grok those design
folks who show up here at IxDA, and/or whom I might see at the IA Summit
or at CHI. Those three professional groups might get scrappy over
territory sometimes, but there's enough in common in our Venn diagram
that we can have interesting and useful conversation over a pint - or
that I can understand and evaluate their resume or background.

So what about those Human Factors folk? The ones who have a Human
Factors degree or professional membership, and who AREN'T also
participating in the IxD or IA-centered organizations. My observation
del giorno: they seem to speak a different language, even when they're
talking about the same core set of tasks (i.e. creating/evaluating
software/web sites to make sure they are efficient, easy, or fun for
people to use).

Has anyone else noticed this? How have you handled the "translation,"
when you need to communicate with or assess someone who lives in that
universe? Have you hired any folks like this to do design, or worked on
a team with them - and has it been a success? Any "bilingual" HF/IxD
people able to help me out here?

Cheers,

- Billie

* * * * * * *

Billie Mandel

Manager, User Experience Design & Research

OPENWAVE

billie.mandel at openwave.com <mailto:billie.mandel at openwave.com>

Comments

11 May 2007 - 1:25pm
Barbara Ballard
2005

On 5/11/07, Billie Mandel <Billie.Mandel at openwave.com> wrote:
> So what about those Human Factors folk? The ones who have a Human
> Factors degree or professional membership, and who AREN'T also
> participating in the IxD or IA-centered organizations. My observation
> del giorno: they seem to speak a different language, even when they're
> talking about the same core set of tasks (i.e. creating/evaluating
> software/web sites to make sure they are efficient, easy, or fun for
> people to use).
>
>
>
> Has anyone else noticed this? How have you handled the "translation,"
> when you need to communicate with or assess someone who lives in that
> universe? Have you hired any folks like this to do design, or worked on
> a team with them - and has it been a success? Any "bilingual" HF/IxD
> people able to help me out here?

I have training in HF, but I got a minor in industrial design. And
there was an interesting schism between the two.

In my experience, HF folks will be good at usability testing and
similar activities. They are also grounded in human performance from
an academic perspective and will have a much better chance at
predicting user behavior than an equivalently experienced designer, at
least until they have some number of years of experience.

HF folks come in a number of flavors: CHI-focused,
engineering-focused, psychology-focused. The last tends to be focused
on research, the others tend to be a mix of research and "design"
oriented. That's "design" as in "figure out a good way to solve this
problem"; I've not seen a single class in ideation in engineering
school.

FYI, a number of the more senior Sprint UX folks are HF trained. As
time went on, the UX team specialized, with a research group (largely
with market research training and similar), a "design" group (with
visual and interaction design training), and a set of "generalists",
typically with HF training, who ended up owning the UX for the
products under their responsibility. They've reorganized, and of
course this is an over-generalization, but it gets you an idea.

--
Barbara Ballard
barbara at littlespringsdesign.com 1-785-838-3003

11 May 2007 - 5:10pm
DanP
2006

>> Has anyone else noticed this?

Yes, definitely. My background somewhat mirrors Barbara's - BS in
Industrial Design and HF/E Masters. I concur with her conclusions.
The landscape is changing quickly. Several students at my institution
are using HF/E to hone, focus and differentiate their visual design
skills from the pack. These visually trained designers are changing
the way HF/E is taught and bridging the gap between engineering/
psychology/CHI and ID. For instance, Ergonomics is now being taught
by the head of ID... Our electives now include an array of courses
from ID. I hear the same from friends in other institutions.

>> How have you handled the "translation," when you need to
>> communicate with or assess someone who lives in that
>> universe?

If it helps, I can tell you how my current job has dealt with it: I
was hired to be a conduit to both worlds, and spend much of my days
translating verbal and written research (traditional HF/E) into (or
enhanced by) visual design. Also, I help HF/E people to understand
the visual process, and act as a tool for them to better express
their ideas. So, I guess the answer to your question "How have you
handled the translation" - they hired me to help.

>> Have you hired any folks like this to do design, or worked on
>> a team with them - and has it been a success? Any "bilingual" HF/IxD
>> people able to help me out here?

I think it is a bad idea to hire a traditionally trained HF/E person
to do design, unless they have skills or education in design.
Traditional HF/E education is meant to supplement or enhance the
design cycle, but should not be tasked with completing full design
cycles. There is a visualization and creativity gap (in my opinion).

We have a team now in which HF/E people are asked to complete nearly
full design cycles - in the past, this meant reading and writing long
reports and literally spelling out everything in excruciating detail-
the results were academic, unrealistic and ill communicated. Now,
they can visualize their ideas more thoroughly, and benefit from the
creative process - which is infinitely quicker and more powerful.

Example: I was in a meeting some months ago with HF/E folks designing
an interface and some hardware. The conversation almost immediately
broke down when trying to describe how to achieve a particular task
through a complex interface. Out came the dry-erase markers, and we
sketched and thought our way through it. Now, I receive at least
three emails a week from my HF/E team that includes (admittedly
rough) sketches! And they're getting better... Also, they now have an
understanding for composition, and a better grasp of creative grammar
and process. The HF/E team is beginning to understand the underlying
rules and power of the ideation process.

>> Any "bilingual" HF/IxD people able to help me out here?

If there's something specific you're having trouble translating, I'd
be glad to help more if I can.

Best Regards,

-Dan

--------------------------------------------
Dan Peknik
NASA Ames Research Center
San Jose State University
--------------------------------------------

On May 11, 2007, at 11:25 AM, Barbara Ballard wrote:

> On 5/11/07, Billie Mandel <Billie.Mandel at openwave.com> wrote:
>> So what about those Human Factors folk? The ones who have a Human
>> Factors degree or professional membership, and who AREN'T also
>> participating in the IxD or IA-centered organizations. My
>> observation
>> del giorno: they seem to speak a different language, even when
>> they're
>> talking about the same core set of tasks (i.e. creating/evaluating
>> software/web sites to make sure they are efficient, easy, or fun for
>> people to use).
>>
>>
>>
>> Has anyone else noticed this? How have you handled the
>> "translation,"
>> when you need to communicate with or assess someone who lives in that
>> universe? Have you hired any folks like this to do design, or
>> worked on
>> a team with them - and has it been a success? Any "bilingual" HF/IxD
>> people able to help me out here?
>
> I have training in HF, but I got a minor in industrial design. And
> there was an interesting schism between the two.
>
> In my experience, HF folks will be good at usability testing and
> similar activities. They are also grounded in human performance from
> an academic perspective and will have a much better chance at
> predicting user behavior than an equivalently experienced designer, at
> least until they have some number of years of experience.
>
> HF folks come in a number of flavors: CHI-focused,
> engineering-focused, psychology-focused. The last tends to be focused
> on research, the others tend to be a mix of research and "design"
> oriented. That's "design" as in "figure out a good way to solve this
> problem"; I've not seen a single class in ideation in engineering
> school.
>
> FYI, a number of the more senior Sprint UX folks are HF trained. As
> time went on, the UX team specialized, with a research group (largely
> with market research training and similar), a "design" group (with
> visual and interaction design training), and a set of "generalists",
> typically with HF training, who ended up owning the UX for the
> products under their responsibility. They've reorganized, and of
> course this is an over-generalization, but it gets you an idea.
>
>
>
> --
> Barbara Ballard
> barbara at littlespringsdesign.com 1-785-838-3003
> ________________________________________________________________
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12 May 2007 - 10:11pm
Keith_Karn
2007

Billie -
My background is in human factors. I consider all of my work in the
past 27 years to be design of human-machine interaction. Of course when
I was an undergraduate there were very few degrees (none at the
undergrad level that I know of) in human factors or ergonomics. So I
went on to get both psychology and industrial engineering degrees. I
also took courses in physiology, biomechanics, and architecture (for
non-majors of course). Since (and in between) my stints in school, I
have helped design military aircraft cockpits, office imaging
equipment, commercial printing systems, desktop software applications,
websites, web applications, medical equipment, embedded system software
with touch-screen GUIs, etc. I say "helped" because I've always worked
closely in teams with other disciplines including industrial designers,
graphic designers, marketing professionals, technical writers,
translators, information architects, software engineers, electrical
engineers, mechanical engineers, and system engineers.
At the masters level in the human factors curriculum at North Carolina
State, we definitely had design courses. We learned about
brainstorming, conceptual and logical design, iteration, usability
testing, etc. I took some drawing courses on my own - outside of the
academic world as I realized that being able to communicate visually
was as important as being able to communicate verbally and in writing.
I actually learned technical writing in my first job working for the
department of Defense. Having 8 military and civilian bosses edit my
letters and reports before they were sent out from the top of the chain
of command taught me a lot. Luckily for me, one of those Navy test
pilots was an english major before going to flight school.
You might appreciate a bit of history of the field. I believe human
factors to be much older than any of the other disciplines you mention
except maybe for industrial design and graphic design. It surely
predates human-computer interaction (mid 1980s), information
architecture (late 1990s), and user experience design (at least with
this label). The Human Factors Society (now called "The Human Factors
and Ergonomics Society) was started in 1958, I believe. The filed was
already booming then - blossoming during World War II when industrial
engineers had to redesign production workplaces to accommodate the
influx of women in the workforce (think Rosie the Riveter) and
experimental psychologist had to figure out ways to design airplane
cockpits to prevent the human pilots from being the weak link in these
increasingly capable and complex weapon systems. In the early 1980s the
Human Factors Society actually cosponsored the first one or two CHI
conferences along with ACM. I still fault the leadership of the Society
for dropping the ball on that and allowing ACM reap all the benefits of
the HCI boom.
Human factors tends to be a pretty board field. I would argue that you
are all doing part of it. Human factors practitioners should know
something about the human user (e.g., human perception and cognition,
anthropometry, biomechanics, work physiology,...) about the tasks the
user will perform (e.g., task analysis, contextual inquiry,
observation, interviewing techniques,...) and about the environment in
which the user will work (e.g., assessment of noise, vibration,
lighting, stress, ...). In addition, human factors practitioners
should have skills to design user experiences, conduct usability tests,
and develop some sort of prototypes / simulations of new design
concepts. These skills should easily transfer across product domains
(e.g., military systems, medical systems, office equipment, consumer
electronics, software applications, websites, etc.). I teach all this
stuff (broad brush) at the undergraduate level in one human-machine
interaction course (yes my students hate me during the semester but
love the experience in retrospect). Personally I think that it is crazy
that we keep inventing new professional societies, academic
departments, and journals (and list services) with ever-increasing
narrowness of focus.
I hope that helps. Feel free to contact me with any specific questions
off list.

Keith Karn
Keith S. Karn, Ph.D.
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences,
University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
keith at cvs.rochester.edu

P.S., The pints are good at the HFES conference too. Try one some time.

On May 11, 2007, Billie Mandel wrote:

> ------------------------------
> From: "Billie Mandel" <Billie.Mandel at openwave.com>
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] "Human Factors" angle on our field
>
> Assumption: Design people - even good ones - can come from an
> interaction design background/angle, a front end developer angle, an
> information architecture angle or an HCI angle, among others. It's
> pretty easy for me to relate to/evaluate/learn from/grok those design
> folks who show up here at IxDA, and/or whom I might see at the IA
> Summit
> or at CHI. Those three professional groups might get scrappy over
> territory sometimes, but there's enough in common in our Venn diagram
> that we can have interesting and useful conversation over a pint - or
> that I can understand and evaluate their resume or background.
>
> So what about those Human Factors folk? The ones who have a Human
> Factors degree or professional membership, and who AREN'T also
> participating in the IxD or IA-centered organizations. My observation
> del giorno: they seem to speak a different language, even when they're
> talking about the same core set of tasks (i.e. creating/evaluating
> software/web sites to make sure they are efficient, easy, or fun for
> people to use).
>
> Has anyone else noticed this? How have you handled the "translation,"
> when you need to communicate with or assess someone who lives in that
> universe? Have you hired any folks like this to do design, or worked
> on
> a team with them - and has it been a success? Any "bilingual" HF/IxD
> people able to help me out here?
>
> Cheers,
> - Billie
>
> * * * * * * *
> Billie Mandel
> Manager, User Experience Design & Research
> OPENWAVE
> billie.mandel at openwave.com <mailto:billie.mandel at openwave.com>

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