Chapter 1: Introduction: Human Factors and Ergonomics in Practice

by Steven Shorrock and Claire Williams 

Practitioner summary

This chapter introduces the main themes of the book. Whilst there is commonality amongst HF/E practitioners in the holistic and systems approach taken to designing interactions, HF/E is incredibly diverse. This diversity is driven by differences in practitioner background, the context of practice, the goals of HF/E and the reality of the daily trade-offs and compromises required for real world practice. Much of the diversity comes from the different industrial and organisational contexts in which practice takes place and the related goals, resources, constraints and opportunities. Some of the diversity of practice is also in response to the fast changing nature of the world in which we live and work, with changes in the global economic, social, political, technological landscape. To continue to develop, HF/E needs to be reflective and responsive, and foster an effective research-practice relationship that acknowledges these realities alongside the importance of practitioner characteristics and relationships to the achievement of outcomes ‘in the field’. The HF/E community must also balance the need for quality with the need to spread HF/E and collaborate. The approach and expected readership for the book are described alongside its structure and contributors.

Chapter quotes

“While some professionals work in one or a small number of industries, HF/E practitioners work in most industries. From toothbrushes to trains, smartphone apps to flight deck displays, farms to production lines, and warehouses to nuclear power control rooms, the idea of designing to optimize well-being and performance is just as relevant.”

“The nature of the profession of HF/E is not often discussed in books, which focus overwhelmingly on discipline aspects. As such, professional issues such as ethics, roles, contexts, competency, communication, and so on, receive less attention than theoretical and methodological issues. But such issues are becoming ever more pertinent, as HF/E becomes embraced by far more than “professional” HF/E specialists.”

“The context of economic activity around the world is changing fast and, in many respects, might be described as “messy.” This messiness is associated with the varying interrelated features of organizations, economies, and societies that create uncertainty, unpredictability, flux, complications, and “systems of problems”.”

“Overall, the changes that we are observing can be seen as opportunities for HF/E (e.g., to promote user-centered design principles; to attract new students) and threats to HF/E (e.g., diluting principles; misapplication of methods; neglect of theory; competition). Whatever happens, HF/E must adapt. It will need to become even more agile, more integrative, and more participative. We will have to make compromises, while sticking to the core features of what defines us as a discipline and profession.”

“We need an effective research–practice relationship in HF/E. But we also need a relationship that acknowledges the realities of practice. The complexity and messiness of application domains means that theory and method cannot be applied in a straightforward way; practitioners need “instrumental” knowledge, not just “explanatory” knowledge (Meister, 1992).”

“This middle ground requires collaboration among those with expertise in theory, method, and aspects of context (HF/E practitioners) and those with deep expertise in their jobs, working environments, and industry. … The middle ground requires that we invite in those at the edge.”

Practitioner Reflections (scroll down to add your comment)


About stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems, and Honorary Clinical Tutor at the University of Edinburgh. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.
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