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Consider Human Factors Early in the Product Design Cycle

DN Staff

April 30, 2015

4 Min Read
Consider Human Factors Early in the Product Design Cycle

As today's product design cycles are held to tighter schedules and budget constraints, it's becoming even more critical to consider human factors up front to catch and fix problems during the initial development stages, when it's faster and less costly to do so. Overlooking human factors at the beginning of the design cycle could lead to poor user experience, a decrease in effective product performance, and an increase in safety risk to the user.

Set Human Factors Goals

Human factors analysis is the study of the interactions between humans and the products, systems, and processes they use. The first step in incorporating a good human factors process into your development program is setting specific goals for your product's design. These goals should include a product that:

  • Is safe to use

  • Performs effectively

  • Optimizes usability and user experience.

When done correctly, a good human factors process not only creates a safer product for your customers, it also improves your product's overall performance and customer experience. As a result, your products will be more sought after than your competitors and give your company a market advantage.


Define All User Profiles, Environments, and Requirements

The next step is to describe all potential user profiles for your product, along with all user environments and user requirements/interfaces.

Before defining these specifications, the best practice is to seek out primarily input from actual users, not just gather input from the development team, and to always look at the product through the users' eyes. Typical descriptions for user profiles can include anthropometric body measurements, age levels, visual/audible acuity, and levels of user training/education. Typical specifications for user environments can include temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, nearby distractions, and space considerations.

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Write user requirements/interfaces in terms of what users sense and how they respond when interacting with all functions of your product. Also, perform an initial user risk analysis at this stage to uncover and mitigate any known safety issues.

Perform Initial User Analysis and Evaluations

After defining user characteristics, it's important to quickly gather human factors data and feedback on initial design concepts. Some commonly used human factor analysis and evaluation methods are to:

  • Visit the User Environment - Going to the actual user environment and witnessing first-hand how a product is used is very helpful and can uncover additional, unanticipated user requirements not previously identified.

  • Use Focus Groups - Interactive groups and subject matter experts can be used to evaluate your design concepts and provide meaningful feedback and data.

  • Review Standard Design Guidelines - Review existing published human factors guidelines (ANSI, FAA, and others) to learn previous best practices on specific areas of your product.

  • Create Quick Mockups and Working Prototypes - Fabricate and constantly create simple mockups and rapid prototypes to optimize your design through continuous usability testing and refinement.

  • Perform Computer Simulations - Use computer simulation technology in virtual space to model human beings interacting with your products.

Remember, whatever combination of methods you choose, it is important to involve actual users early and often in the design cycle. This will quickly improve your product's usability and help your design become safer and more error-tolerant.

Validation Testing

Before releasing your design to the marketplace, demonstrate that human factors goals were achieved by performing validation testing on a production-level product. Testing should be done by actual users under real-world scenarios and conditions, with specific pass/fail criteria clearly defined beforehand.

Considering human factors early in the design cycle not only leads to safer, more effective products, it can also improve your business' bottom line, since intuitive, easy-to-use designs are the product of choice in today's highly competitive marketplace.

What human factors methods have you successfully used during product development and how has your organization effectively incorporated human factors into your design cycle? Please share your perspective of human factors design in the comments section below.

Greg Jung has more than 25 years of experience designing medical equipment and electro-mechanical products for a wide variety of industries. He also served in various project management roles and has led global, cross-functional development teams for a wide variety of programs. During this time, he developed several award-winning and patented product designs. Greg holds bachelor and master of science degrees in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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