The Human Factor

The Human Factor; Revolutionizing the Way We Live with Technology by Kim Vicente is one of those books that excel at explaining something very difficult and technical in laymen terms. As our world grows more and more technically entangled Vicente looks at the way we can integrate technology and design. His book The Human Factor is a beautiful insight into the mechanisms behind the technological world. The book covers exciting (and dangerous) fields like nuclear installations, and also more accessible systems like cockpit designs, hospital machines and even the design of your stove. It is a book that will stay relevant for many years to come.

Technology is mostly designed by engineers and other technical staff. Push-buttons are put together on basis of the shortest distance between cables and are designed to the cheapest classifications possible. This is what Vicente (successfully) tries to counter. He argues that in a technological-driven world we should look at how we can use it, not at how it is made in the cheapest way possible. One excellent example is the redesign of the cockpit. At first, all buttons were the same, and a pilot had to remember every function by heart. Nowadays it is much easier to fly a plane, every control has its own characteristics. The landing gear feels like wheels, the throttle is something you have to push forward, and all other functions have their distinct feeling.

Vicente does an excellent job in explaining that we need to look at the functionality of technology. Through design, we can adjust technology to match with our mental capabilities. In critical situations, it is important to incorporate double-checks. In a situation where there are lots of functionalities, each should be distinct from the others. Intuition is a vital part of how we deal with technology. This is reflected in the design of a stove; something that has yet to be implemented. Vicente states that we should lower the two right pitches just a little bit to validate that the controls are for top-left, bottom-left, top-right, bottom-right. The Human Factor emphasizes that technology should be designed to fit our thinking patterns, not the other way around.

Kim Vicente has been hailed by TIME magazine as one of the 25 Canadians under 40 who will reshape Canada. He is the Hunsaker Distinguished Visiting Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and has been a consultant at NASA, NATO, Honeywell, and Microsoft, among others. His work in Human Factor Engineering has transformed the sector and has made the topic more accessible to the general public. The topics covered in The Human Factor range from toothbrushes to nuclear reactors, and enlighten the reader on all things related to Human Factors.


Related: The Design of Everyday Things (TBD)


The Book:

The Human Factor; Revolutionizing the Way We Live with Technology – Kim Vicente – ISBN-10: 0676974902 | ISBN-13: 978-0676974904


More on The Human Factor: – Wiki on Human Factors (and the related Ergonomics) – Human Factors organization – What is Human Factor Engineering