Large-scale systems engineering projects involve multiple teams of engineers working in parallel. These projects typically include numerous human factors challenges, many of which first become evident during the integration stage. Human factors evaluations are essential in gathering human performance data and analyzing the usability of new design concepts. These evaluations are generally carried out by human factors experts due to the level of expertise required. However, many projects may not have a dedicated human factors expert available for consultation throughout all design phases. In these cases, non-human-factors engineers could derive value from a tool that locates relevant human factors design resources, and guides them through conducting simpler, formative human factors evaluations to gather feedback earlier in the process. The challenge for the design engineer is in finding the appropriate human factors design guidance relevant to a specific project.

There is a considerable body of human factors knowledge at NASA in the form of design standards, handbooks, reference documents, and lessons learned that has built up over time. Much of this human factors knowledge is very useful, but exists in various departments and in different forms (e.g., electronic and hardcopy). In the end, many design engineers are overwhelmed with the corpus of human factors knowledge. In addition, they are not sure of when and how to consult with a human factors specialist, so they often do not get the needed help until later in the design process when components are evaluated in an integrated test environment. This challenge often leads to costly rework.

To help solve this problem, the Human Factors Analysis Support Tool (H-FAST) was developed as a research and development effort to increase human factors awareness among design engineers, facilitate communication between human factors engineers and design engineers, and promote the application of human factors best practices earlier in the design cycle. H-FAST also provides detailed guidance regarding human factors evaluations, and the capability to store data and provide feedback on the results of these evaluations.

H-FAST improves the engineering design process by providing engineers with easy access to detailed human factors methods, relevant research, and subject matter expert contact information. This will empower engineers to create more usable systems, thus reducing the number of design iterations and resulting in higher-quality products.

Design Aids will be tagged against multiple taxonomies, each with its own perspective. The goal is to provide a common language that can be shared between human factors specialists and engineers. An engineer will choose which pieces of each taxonomy apply to their design project, providing context to filter the full catalog of Design Aids. Lessons learned can be captured by engineers as they apply human factors principles to their designs. Human factors specialists can synthesize this information into new Design Aids, creating a positive feedback loop.

This work was done by Douglas Wong of Johnson Space Center, and Terence Andre, Rod Ford, and Ryan Meyer of Tier 1 Performance Solutions. This software is available for use. To request a copy, please visit here .

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2017 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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