What is Human Factors?

Hello, all!

To give to a little bit of a taste of what I do at Gulfstream (and some tips on how to get your foot in the door here), I figured I need to explain what it is exactly that I do.

I’m a human factors engineering intern; I’ll try to explain the basics of what I do. Not a whole lot of people know what human factors is, but a simple explanation of what human factors is is the study of the interactions between humans and machines, creating a better overall experience for the human. There are endless opportunities within human factors, anything from ergonomically designing seats and controls (like a steering wheel in a car or a side-stick in an airplane) to developing checklists. Human Factors plays important roles in aviation and safety, which is why, thanks to the help of the FAA, there’s been a huge influx of human factors department growth within major aerospace companies. Some companies, like Gulfstream, have had human factors departments for a long time, but have tried to expand the influence that human factors has in the overall design and development of aircraft.

Human factors isn’t just touchy-feely, “how does this make you feel?” science. It’s more about “what can I do to make this easier for the user?”. Take your car for example. Every single button shape, the amount of force required to press the button, the symbology, color, and size all had input from a human factors professional. The seats in your car? A human factors and ergonomics specialist helped designing those. The brightness of the lights on a flight deck and how they affect night flying or the shape of the cockpit windows and how the light reflects off of the glass cockpit are both practical examples of human factors in aviation.

But physical systems such as cars and airplanes are not the limits of human factors. Operating procedures and training are also big parts of human factors. One example that I’ve become familiar with while working at Gulfstream is writing SOPs which are standard operating procedures. It’s basically a how-to guide for completing a task. For human factors, SOPs are great because we can design the SOPs to complete a task in the most effective and efficient manner. It is very often that what we design is not the common practice, but the changes made can make the job easier, decreasing workload, physical load, and other factors. ATC is a perfect example of human factors in a non-physical system. Another example would be rearranging an operating room so that the doctors and nurses have all of the pertinent equipment close by rather than having any issues with space and access to important people and equipment.

There’s a lot more to human factors than meets the eye. I’ll be perfectly honest and my HF friends and colleagues will agree that it’s not easy. Some people have the idea that HF majors have it easy, but until you experience what we do, you really have no idea how technical levels. Now, I’m not saying that it’s as hard as or harder than an engineering program. But they’re almost incomparable. Where there is an engineer, there’s a human factors specialist. One cannot exist without the other nowadays.

If you’re interested in pursuing human factors as either a major or a minor, I’d be more than happy to help you out and answer any questions!

I hope this helps explain what human factors is. I’ll be posting more about it further in the summer time. Now it’s time to focus on my human factors work at Gulfstream!

Until next time – blue skies.