The beginnings of what has developed into the Human Factors industry date back to World War II when the usability and human interface of a whole variety of products and systems came into sharp focus.
This prompted widespread studies into a number of different areas, including systems performance, working environments / workspace arrangement, the efficiency and speed of interpretation of key signals & information, the responses they were designed to generate, etc. Also examined was the whole question of the skills required for proper management of all machinery, systems and processes.
Research in these areas ensued, with particular emphasis on human operations. As it was still wartime, some actions were not possible, such as significant modifications of equipment. However, there was an immediate opportunity for improvements in performance and safety.
In the later years of the war, attention was focused on operations analysis, operator selection, training, and the environment associated with signal detection and recognition, communication, and vehicle control. At the same time, away from the front line, human factors work in industry was focused on efficiency, task analysis, and time-and-motion studies.
When the war was over, human factors work continued and was broadened to embrace the design of products and systems more completely. As the industry developed, it became commonplace for governments to include human factors requirements in procurement contracts they took out with suppliers of key products and services – particularly the supply of military hardware.
This led to a need for human factors specialists by industry and gradually resulted in their involvement in non military systems and equipment. Since the early years after the war, human factors has further expanded its remit to include transportation, architecture, environmental design, consumer products, electronics / computers, energy systems, medical devices, manufacturing, office automation, organizational design and management, aging, farming, health, sports and recreation, oil field operations, mining, forensics, education, and speech synthesis. In the same period, human factors undergraduate and graduate study programmes have been organized in universities and colleges in the UK, the United States and many other countries and a wide range of human factors employment opportunities have been created in industry, business, service, government and education.