I am reviewing the Manifesto on Human Factors Engineering and making updates. In the meantime, what follows below was a draft introduction letter, which was left unpublished when releasing the Manifesto last year. Blue text shows new updates. As far as this post’s title is concerned, DX refers to Digital Experiences. The same acronym is also used for Digital Transformation initiatives.
Claude E. Shannon, the father of information theory, is credited with being the first to use the word “bit” in a ground-breaking paper published in the Bell Labs’ Research Journal in 1948. He defined a mathematical framework that defines information and how to encode and transmit it over communication networks.
John E. Karlin, the father of Human Factors Engineering and a peer of Shannon’s at Bell Labs, is credited with assembling the first business organization addressing the human side of the equation just a year earlier. His interdisciplinary team focused on how to interface and, therefore, best design communication systems that account for cognitive and behavioral matters, as well as form factor considerations for devices to be user friendly.
In the Age of Digital Transformation, the notion of “being digital” has transcended the sophisticated handling of binary digits and what we can do with tangible hardware. Data driven automation and the notion of zero-touch lead to the development of end-to-end digital systems that are largely software defined and autonomic. These are engineered to be highly efficient and to operate without human intervention… or so we thought.
That feat can only be accomplished by undertaking a holistic design approach which, paradoxically, highlights the larger context and the new nature of Human-Machine-Systems. Otherwise, we would incur a technical myopia where presumably good technology ends up addressing the wrong problems or causing new ones that offset the intended benefits. In the digital age, technical prowess alone does no longer guarantee success: impressive inventions can fail to “cross the chasm,” fall in the “valley of death,” and never become true innovations to their creators and investors’ dismay. Passing the Turing Test just to plunge into the uncanny valley paradox also reinforces that point.
Note: the above draft chart is not self-explanatory, requires some updating and I will better address it on another post… but I’d like to leave this version here for ongoing discussions and feedback.
Being digital entails a new breed of jobs enabled by workforce automation. Any of us may become a citizen developer who can leverage self-service and intuitive decision support systems to create, blend and program services, because automation does the heavy lifting under the hood. Interdisciplinary collaboration is now within reach as teams involving individuals from different domains can effectively share these tools and the underlying resources to overcome the pitfalls and diminishing returns of organizational fragmentation. Enterprises can better innovate and further business opportunities by engaging in rapid experimentation with nimbler teams working at greater scale and scope, and by doing so at unprecedented speed.
At the time of writing this, and in the foreseeable future, no enterprise system is left alone without a human being accountable for its performance (or lack of thereof) since our skills and judgement remain key to critical and ultimate decision making. The more sophisticated the environment, the more obvious, as smaller agile teams become responsible for systems operating at greater scale, scope and speed. Dr. Alonso Vera, Chief at NASA’s HSI (Human Systems Integration) Division, states that “humans are the most critical element in system safety, reliability and performance […] across the gamut of applications even as increasingly intelligent software systems come on-line,” Human-Centered Design and Operations of Complex Aerospace Systems 2017.
It should also be noted that best practices in A.I. are promoting the kind of augmented and collaborative intelligence that only Human-On-The-Loop and Human-In-The-Loop Computing can deliver. A.I. is also powering up Affective Computing to make day-to-day digital services be contextual, empathic and adaptive, and allowing for mass-personalization at scale. We are also leveraging Natural Language Processing coupled with Dataviz helping better search, discover and visualize insight and foresight with interactive infographic quality, instead of just rendering data overloading screens and overwhelming navigation.
These are all good reasons to further our understanding of how to best leverage analytics, automation and programmability to design enterprise and consumer systems driven by a human-centered approach. The desired outcome is greater utility, frictionless consumability, dynamic adaptation and, last but not least, extreme ease of use at any level throughout a service’s lifecycle. That’s the fertile ground that enables new cross-pollination opportunities to enable a better future, which continuous improvement sets in constant motion and, hence, always is in the making.
Being digital is a human experience and, as such, it involves human affects. That relates to how we perceive our predominantly analog world and the diversity of our social and cultural fabrics. We interact with a great deal of objects and services of all sizes which can, and will be, digitized and automated in some fashion. We will continue to lead our lives in a variety of changing contexts and perform numerous tasks throughout the day, some routinely and some exercising more demanding skills with both low and high tech in that mix. So, it pays to think of Human Factors Engineering as not only having pioneered human-centered-design, but as an endless source of serial innovation for Creative Technologists to address our evolving lifestyles and quality of life in the DX Age.