As an English graduate working amongst engineers, ergonomists and industrial designers, I often reflect on how my degree led me into human factors (HF). I chose to read English at university because I loved the subject. Who could resist a course entitled “English Literature, Life and Thought from 1350 to the present day”? I wasn’t thinking about how to build skills for a future career but it happened anyway.
A degree in English Literature teaches you to think critically about information and the biases that may have influenced it. It develops the skills that allow you to determine what argument you can rationally make from the data in front of you and other established fact. You learn to read quickly, pick out key information and summarise clearly. It encourages attention to detail and open curiosity.
I started to conduct user research at Team 20 years ago and soon realised that these skills have a part to play in the world of HF. When I heard Ron Kaye, former Head of Human Factors at the FDA, say that HF is ‘a game of words, not numbers’ and that an HF/usability engineering report is a ‘summing-up in front of the jury’, I knew that this was a game I could play.