Uncovering the Value of Human Factors


Human Factors (HF) is known by multiple names across different industries. It is commonly referred to as ergonomics in automotive design, Human Element in marine engineering, Human Machine Interaction (HMI), usability engineering, user experience…the list goes on. All these disciplines are fundamentally the same and involve designing products, systems or environments to be in tune with the physical and cognitive capabilities of the end user. This user-centred design approach ensures safe, efficient and enjoyable interactions with the devices we use every day. When Human Factors is done well, the result is a seamless, effortless and enjoyable experience for the user. In fact, you probably won’t even notice good HF but you’ll almost certainly spot when the user has not been properly considered during the design process. 

In a busy, time-pressured environment such as an airport security hall, Human Factors can make a real difference helping passengers navigate with the minimum of delay and anxiety, and help staff rapidly, accurately and safely interact with scanning and diagnostics equipment. This challenging environment is one which has parallels in many aspects of equipment and system design on which the Human Factors team at Kinneir Dufort collaborate with our clients.

So where else can good HF work be seen? Here are three examples of ‘undercover’ HF at work:

Packaging Design:

Considering the user at every design phase.


Tamper proof packaging of consumer electronics such as moulded clamshells have reduced theft from stores around the world but also infuriated consumers who need to find a stanley knife before they can get into their exciting new purchase. Consumer electronics companies have invested in ergonomics to explore alternative security methods and improve that all important ‘unboxing’ experience.

Similarly, clever HF needs to be adopted in cap designs for medical and chemical products; legislations mean that some products need to be child resistant – and rightly so. The difficulty, however, arises when such designs also prevent elderly people with limited dexterity from accessing their medication. The Nicorette Quickmist, a hugely successful smoking cessation product, is a neat example addressing this dual challenge. The mechanism that locks the device preventing accidental use by inquisitive children, provides a “fiddle-factor” function appreciated by adults looking to replace habits of smoking.

Careful consideration of the real end-user during the design of packaging can be key to user satisfaction; promoting brand loyalty and user safety.


Operating Rooms:

Improving safety and efficiency through system, environment and job design.

Keeping an eye on trends and learnings available from other industries is a key way of pushing the boundaries of design and Human Factors. A great example of this can be demonstrated in the world of emergency life-saving surgery which involves teams of skilled people working together towards a singular goal. This is an obvious area where money and time has been invested into product, system and environmental design to ensure that modern operating theatres are optimal. There was however, one vital part of an emergency surgery patient’s journey that was often overlooked – the transfer from the theatre to intensive care unit. Vital systems need to be unplugged, disconnected, transferred and then reconnected in the correct order and within a tight time frame to ensure that the successful surgery is not wasted by a simple mistake in this process. Inspiration to improve this process came from an unlikely source – the world of motorsport. The F1 racing industry invests millions of dollars into pit stop efficiency where every second counts; precision, speed and team work are all vital. This expertise has been transferred to the healthcare industry to ensure that, during this key patient transfer stage, roles are clearly defined, products are designed to enable quick and error free operation and hospital environments facilitate swift patient transfer.


Signage and Navigation:

Understanding human behaviour and decision making.

Signage in Hospitals

Around the globe there’s evidence of good (and bad) Human Factors when it comes to helping people navigate spaces. We’ve all seen it, hospitals, airports, even cities but the best signage design is something you don’t notice.

Where HF can influence design here, is in understanding how, why, and importantly when, people will make decisions. It’s not just about designing signs to be in a clear font at a legible size, it’s also vital that the sign provides the right message and is positioned in the right place. Human Factors can help designers understand what information someone will need to reach their destination and where they will stop to look for cues to help them make their journey decisions.

This approach doesn’t just apply to spaces; ‘navigation’ Human Factors can be applied to instructions for use and even products themselves, using design cues to guide the user to the correct next step.

Effective integration of Human Factors in the design process, can not only improve the final product but also has the potential to save money along the way. HF methods and tools can and should be applied to any design process – the earlier the better, as demonstrated in the graph below:

Human Factors Effectiveness Graph

In many high-risk industries such as health care, transportation, defence and power, the influence of HF has been focussed on safety. At Kinneir Dufort, we argue that HF tools and techniques should not just be used to support risk management but can add significant value during the design process, from increasing efficiency and product adoption to enhancing enjoyment, comfort in use and customer loyalty.

Whenever a human interacts with a product or system, Human Factors can play a role in improving the design, but appreciation of the benefits that HF brings to the design process is often lost. When done well, and innate in its very nature, you will never even realise that good HF methods have been adopted. This is HF at it’s very best…unseen and undercover, yet playing such a critical role with any user interaction.

To find out more about how to uncover the value of HF in your development process, contact Chris White at [email protected] 

Chris White