Human Factors in Software Development


The first two articles in this series introduced the human factors profession and provided examples of human factors contributions in various industries. This article, Part 3, will focus on one specific industry, software development, and show how human factors engineers participate in the software development process. (Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2, if you want to refer to them.) As you read this article, be aware that there are different software development methodologies. If you know them, you may be familiar with…

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Human Factors at Work


The first article in this series introduced human factors specialists and how they study the sensory, cognitive, and motor aspects of human performance. Now we will take a closer look at some of the work that human factors engineers are involved in. Distracted Driving We’re all familiar with the dangers of driving while texting, talking on the phone, checking Facebook, or looking at a navigation app. According to the U.S. Government, 3,154 people were killed in the U.S. in 2013 because of distracted drivers. [1]…

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How to Protect Your Valuable User Interface Intellectual Property


A well-designed, attractive user interface is valuable. In fact, it may be one of the most valuable components of your software. Apple built the biggest company in the world on best-in-class design and usability. If you develop software, you should be aware of the value of your user interface (UI), whether you should take steps to protect it, and whether you may be at risk of infringing on another UI. The tools used to protect intellectual property such as user interface–copyrights, trademarks, and patents–are complex.…

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What is Human Factors Anyway?


What do these events have in common? In 1986, operators at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant were conducting an experiment that required them to operate the reactor in an unstable power level. Because they were under pressure to complete the experiment, they disabled several safety systems and modified procedures on the spot to enable the reactor to operate in this state. One researcher later reported that they were “mesmerized by [a] mindset to complete the experiment.”[1] We know the result of this experiment: “An explosion…

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Why Apple vs. Samsung Mattered


Full disclosure: I was an expert witness for Samsung in this Apple vs. Samsung case. In 2011, Apple sued Samsung in US court for patent infringement over design similarities between the iPhone and various Samsung Android phones. This was the opening shot in a series of legal battles fought in multiple countries over three years, costing the two companies nearly a billion dollars. When the dust settled, Apple was largely the winner, the courts finding that Samsung had copied Apple design features. To the consumer,…

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