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The Human Factor: Revolutioinizing the Way People Live With Technology

The Human Factor

Kim Vicente

The Human Factor author Kim Vicente feels that civilization is at a crossroads.

Technology, he argues, is no longer the key to an improved planet or business. Rather, improving our world requires changing our relationship with technology and regaining control of our lives — creating technology that works for people.

“We already know how to design technology that works for people,” writes Vicente. “If we could just apply this knowledge much more widely, we could help solve many persistent social problems of global interest and improve the quality of life of everyone on the planet.”

Vicente is a professor of human factors engineering, or in his terms, a “technological anthropologist.” He cites real-world examples of poor product design that can help companies looking to better understand how technology relates to business, products and customers.

The physical level is perhaps easiest to understand: a toothbrush that fits into hard-to-reach parts of the human mouth is better tailored to the human body than one that cannot. At the psychological level, technology has to take into account how people process and remember information — from designing voicemail systems to power plants. He notes the awkwardly placed and uninformative gauges in the design of the control room at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station left even highly trained engineers uncertain as to the status of the reactor, contributing to the infamous accident there.

Without understand technology, Vicente warns innovation is progressing so quickly that we are falling behind in our ability to manage it, eliminating the “human factor” from devices originally designed to make our lives easier.

“Technology — with all its promise and potential — has gotten so far beyond human control that it’s threatening the future of humankind.”

About the Author
In 1999, Kim Vicente was chosen by TIME magazine as one of 25 Canadians under the age of 40 as a “Leader for the 21st Century who will shape Canada’s future.”

A professor of human factors engineering at the University of Toronto, he lectures widely around the world and has acted as a consultant to, amongst others, NASA, NATO, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, Microsoft and Nortel. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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