Human Factors in UX Discipline

Albert Shepherd updated on 2024-06-06 13:48:47
human factors

With their emphasis on the user- or person-centered design, human factors can help to ensure that health care in the home suits the people, the tasks, and the environments involved and that the care provided is safe, effective, and efficient. According to the International Ergonomics Association, "Human factors is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and other methods to design to optimize human well-being and overall system performance" (International Ergonomics Association, 2010).

The goals of Human Factors

Therefore, human factors are concerned with applying what is known about human behavior, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of systems, tasks/activities, environments, and equipment/technologies. It is also concerned with the design of training programs and instructional materials that support the performance of tasks or the use of technology/equipment.

Human factors focus on how people interact with tasks, with equipment/technologies, and with the environment to understand and evaluate these interactions. The goals of human factors are to optimize human and system efficiency and effectiveness, safety, health, comfort, and quality of life.

I would say that User Experience is a sub-field of Human Factors. Human Factors takes a broader perspective on all kinds of human-machine interaction. It is about engineering, ergonomics, risk psychology, automation psychology, neuroscience, and many more. Human Factors methods can be applied to many industries such as automotive, aviation, or medical engineering, whereas User Experience is more about web technologies.

Research in UX is about how usable a website or an app is, what emotions usage evokes and what people think about the brand. The main goal of research in Human Factors Science is to reduce human error and make human-machine interaction safer.

How human factors affect product design?

People don't often change how they do things to accommodate design flaws, so it's important to design for custom quirks. The toothpaste cap is a classic example: separate from the tube, the curved cap results in hardened, wasted toothpaste. UX Designers need to think about how users interact with their product or application in a specific area and think about providing them a better user experience. Many manufacturers nowadays create hinged toothpaste caps and other designs connected to their tubes in case users forget to close the cap.

Human factors vs. UX

So, when we talk about human factors design, is it the same as UX design? Not necessarily. Human factors design has roots in ergonomics, and it's primarily focused on how people interact with technology. It's about making a system usable, especially when it comes to human-computer interaction. User experience (UX), on the other hand, encompasses everything that users go through when they interact with a product. The goal of UX design is to make a system both useful and pleasurable to interact with. When people evaluate a product, they usually judge it on both usability and likeability. The human factors that make a product usable are a part of the larger user experience. Thus, UX designers should have a good understanding of human factors design to create a great product.

Principle of Human Factors Design

A sense of control

The user is the one who should control the interaction with the system, not the other way around. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing your system:

  • Provide adequate feedback - use visual and auditory cues to help users understand the system's current state.
  • Management of system operations - Users should control system operations, such as interrupting or completing actions.
  • Personalization - Offer content based on what you know about the user to give the impression that the system is adapting to the user's needs.
  • Interactive elements such as buttons should always provide visual feedback when interacting.


Users should be able to complete their tasks in the shortest possible time. Break complex tasks into simple steps. By doing this, you can reduce complexity and simplify the decision-making process. Reduce the number of steps required to complete the task, remove all unnecessary steps and make the navigation paths as short as possible. Ensure your user can devote all of their time to the task at hand and not to the product interface.

Error management

Making errors is in human nature. But that doesn't mean your users like it! The way a system handles errors has a tremendous impact on your users. This includes error prevention, error correction, and helping your user get back on track when an error does occur.

Here are a few things to remember when designing error handling:

  • Prevent errors from occurring whenever possible. Create user journeys and analyze them to identify places in which users might face troubles.
  • Protect users from making fatal errors. Create defensive layers that prevent users from getting fatal error states. For example, design system dialogs that ask users to confirm their action (such as deleting files or their entire account).
  • System dialog for 'Delete Account' operation. Image credit Stackoverflow.
  • Support 'Undo' operations. Make it possible to reverse actions.
  • When an error does occur, provide messages that help users solve the problem.
  • Never blame users. If you practice user-centered design, you know that it's not the user's fault; instead, it's your design flaws that lead users to make mistakes.

Methods for identifying human factors.

Now that you understand what Human Factors design is, let's dive into how you can incorporate principles into your design process. The first step is understanding your user and where they might get stuck - so of course, user testing is key!

Here are some testing methods to understand the human factor at work:

  • "Cognitive Walkthrough" is a usability technique in which UX practitioners work on a series of tasks from the user's point of view. The cognitive walkthrough works really well during the prototyping phase because it keeps the focus simple: Can a new user get the job done easily?
  • "Moderated Usability Testing " - through which human factors specialists observe how the test-takers interact with the product. Moderated usability testing provides the most value when the team has a highly accurate prototype of the product. Try asking test takers to think out loud during testing, which will give you even more valuable insight into the user experience.
  • "Contextual research" is a form of qualitative research in which UX practitioners observe how users interact with a product in their natural environment, such as the workplace. This is ideal once you have released the product to the market to see how users interact with the product in real life.


Human factors play a significant role in the development of successful products. The discipline of human factors design helps you identify areas where you can potentially improve your system and enhance productivity, safety, and overall satisfaction when using a system.