Ever since I was in graduate school, I’ve been fascinated with the number of definitions that have been put forth to describe the discipline of human factors and ergonomics. About ten years ago, I started compiling a list of definitions I encountered in the literature. From this list, I developed my own definition that I believe concisely encapsulates such a diverse discipline:
Human factors and ergonomics is a unique scientific discipline that systematically applies the knowledge of human abilities and limitations to the design of systems with the goal of optimizing the interaction between people and other system elements to enhance safety, performance, and satisfaction.
Below are several additional examples listed in alphabetical order by author:
- Human-factors engineering is the application of human factors information to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human use. (Chapanis, 1996, p. 11)
- …ergonomics is the design and engineering of human-machine systems for the purpose of enhancing human performance. (Dempsey, et al., 2000, p. 6)
- . . . is a study of man’s behaviour in relation to his work. The object of this research is man at work in relation to his spatial environment . . . the most important principle of ergonomics: Fitting the task to the man. Ergonomics is interdisciplinarian: it bases its theories on physiology, psychology, anthropometry, and various aspects of engineering. (Grandjean, 1980, p. ix)
- . . . is that branch of science which seeks to turn human-machine antagonism into human-machine synergy. (Hancock, 1997)
- Ergonomics (or 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 methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. (International Ergonomics Association, 2000)
- HFE can be defined as the science of design, testing, evaluation and management of human system interactions according to the human-system compatibility requirements. (Karwowski, 2005)
- …a unique and independent discipline that focuses on the nature of human-artifact interactions, viewed from the unified perspective of the science, engineering, design, technology and management of human-compatible systems, including a variety of natural and artificial products, processes, and living environments. (Karwowski, 2006, p. 4)
- Ergonomics is concerned with promoting compatibility between humans and systems. Ergonomics is pursued to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency with which work and other activities are carried out and to enhance certain desirable human values. These goals require increasing convenience of use, reduction of errors and increasing productivity. (Lee, 2005)
- . . . is the study of how humans accomplish work-related tasks in the context of human-machine system operation and how behavioural and non-behavioural variables affect that accomplishment. (Meister, 1989, p. 2)
- Ergonomics is concerned with the design of behavior. This it achieves by designing the environment in which behavior occurs (including particular devices such as tools), by designing tasks and methods, and by shaping behavior directly through selection and training. (Moray, 1995, p. 1698).
- . . . the scientific study of the relationship between man and his working environment. In this sense, the term environment is taken to cover not only the ambient environment in which he may work but also his tools and materials, his methods of work and the organization of his work, either as an individual or within a working group. All these are related to the nature of the man himself; to his abilities, capacities and limitations. (Murrell, 1965, p. xiii)
- Human factors, for this purpose, is taken to include not only the implications of human capabilities and limitations for the design of equipment and machines that are intended for human use, but applied psychology much more generally. In particular, it is taken to involve social systems as well as physical ones, the interaction of people with the environment as well as with machines, the facilitation of communication between people as well as between people and computers, and the design of policies and procedures as well as of equipment. (Nickerson, 1992, p. 2).
- . . . discovers and applies information about human behaviour, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of tools, machines, systems, task, jobs, and environments for productive, safe, comfortable, and effective human use. (Sanders & McCormick, 1993, p. 5)
- Ergonomics is the theoretical and fundamental understanding of human behavior and performance in purposeful interacting sociotechnical systems, and the application of that understanding to design of interactions in the context of real systems. (Wilson, 2000, p. 560)
- …the practice of learning about human characteristics and then using that understanding to improve people’s interactions with the things they use and with the environments in which they do so. (Wilson & Corlett, 1995, p. 3)
- Human factors/ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with understanding interactions among humans and other elements of a system. It is also a profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. (Zink, 2006)
Chapanis, A. (1996). Human factors in systems engineering. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Dempsey, P. G., Wogalter, M.S., & Hancock, P.A. (2000). What’s in a name? Using terms from definitions to examine the fundamental foundation of human factors and ergonomics science. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 1, 3-10.
Grandjean, E. (1980). Fitting the task to the man. London: Taylor & Francis.
Hancock, P.A. (1997). Essays on the future of human-machine systems. Minneapolis, MN: Banta.
International Ergonomics Association. (2000). What is ergonomics?
Karwowski, W. (2005). Ergonomics and human factors: the paradigms for science, engineering, design, technology and management of human-compatibility systems. Ergonomics, 48, 436-463.
Karwowski, W. (2006). The discipline of ergonomics and human factors. In G. Salvendy (Ed.), Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics, 3rd ed. (pp. 3-31). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, K.S. (2005). Ergonomics in total quality management: How can we sell ergonomics to management? Ergonomics, 48, 547-558.
Meister, D. (1989). Conceptual aspects of human factors. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Moray, N. (1995). Ergonomics and the global problems of the twenty-first century. Ergonomics, 38, 1691-1707.
Murrell, K.F.H. (1965). Human performance in industry. New York: Reinhold Publishing.
Nickerson, R. S. (1992). Looking ahead: Human factors challenges in a changing world. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Sanders, M.S., & McCormick, E.J. (1993). Human factors in engineering and design (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
Wilson, J.R. (2000). Fundamentals of ergonomics in theory and practice. Applied Ergonomics, 31, 557-567.
Wilson, J.R., & Corlett, E. N. (1995). Evaluation of human work: A practical ergonomics methodology (2nd ed). Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis.
Zink, K.J. (2006). Human factors, management and society. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 7, 437-445.