Human factors studies – just act natural!

12 Sep 2022 4min read

Team Discussion

Multiple authors

I recently volunteered for a user study for the first time. Since working for Team Consulting, I’ve learned how important this sort of human factors research is to ensure end devices are as user-friendly as possible, so that they can be used correctly and safely. Whilst I really enjoyed the experience and the process of the study, I found that there were moments where I was mentally urging myself to act “normally” and try to forget about the people and cameras watching my every move.

As the study began, I started to doubt myself: “Was I holding the device the right way round? Would I look at it in such great detail if I wasn’t being watched?”. These questions began to cloud my judgement of whether I was interacting with the devices conventionally. I think we can all relate to the feeling of trying to type in front of a group of people and making a series of typos!

Though at first I was hyper-aware of the purpose of the study, this feeling quickly faded and I felt more comfortable. I was then able to play around with the devices in a way that felt natural, to give the researchers an idea of how a real user might interact with them. This allowed the researchers to observe my every move and take notes to help them make the end device practical and easy to use.

As these studies serve to assess the usability and ergonomics of devices, it’s important not to have preconceived ideas that may lead you to feel bias towards a particular design. I knew very little about what I would be looking at before I got into the room, so when I was presented with different devices for the first time, I had the opportunity to form my own unbiased opinion on them.


Throughout the study, I noticed the researchers making a sustained effort to learn about my feelings and perceptions of each device, without guiding me towards a certain answer or opinion. This was no doubt a challenging task for them, when I know they had spent countless hours designing each model to be as user-friendly as possible. I was reminded of when I first learned about human factors as a discipline, where it was explained to me that the researchers are looking to understand and even stand up for their users, which I thought was a nice way of looking at it. It didn’t matter if I used the device incorrectly or misunderstood a function, there were lessons to be learned from every contact I had with each device.

The researchers leading the study certainly don’t want to set each product up to fail, but equally, they don’t want to set it up to be liked! Having an honest, blind interaction with the devices is what gives them the most useful insights as to what makes a device better or worse for its end users. The people leading the research almost want to be flies on the wall, watching on and taking notes without interfering.


Though the engineers and designers often spend weeks or even months brainstorming ideas to develop the most practical devices, user research, like the study I was involved with, tests whether the end user is at the heart of the design. Even after pouring over ideas for weeks, sometimes a fresh perspective can lead to a breakthrough in the device’s design, which is especially important to design safe medical devices. So, if you ever find yourself taking part in a usability study, just act natural!

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