Book Review: The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the Way People Live with Technology by Kim Vicente

Book Review: The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the Way People Live with Technology by Kim Vicente

This book is required reading for everyone who develops technology for people to use. Vicente uses the phrase “human-tech” to describe technology that is a good fit between people and the machines they use.

One story describes how a toy wheel glued to an airplane control completely eliminated a deadly “pilot error” that crashed planes and killed pilots during World War II. Another describes how a mismatch of technology and human needs led to a small town being poisoned and the Chernobyl disaster.

The book explains clearly and precisely how considering the human factor appropriately can make living with technology easier and improve everyone’s quality of life. The lessons in the book move from concrete objects like pens and phones up through a series of steps all the way to policies and politics. If hospitals treated near misses the same way the FAA does today, nearly 100,000 people a year could be saved and many more would not be harmed or maimed by medical mistakes.

The lessons in the book are especially important for those of us in the software industry. Our products are rarely “life or death” but the chance to improve the fit with the way people actually behave and work are very important. The later chapters contain valuable information on how to design our processes to improve our chances of success in the marketplace and increase satisfaction with the products we make.

Testers in particular should take these lessons to heart. When we are being advocates for the customer, we have to understand how people really use technology. The things that make technology easier and harder to use are outlined. We have so many programs and gadgets, but so few of them fit really well with our daily life and the uses we want from them. The ones that do are run-away hits in the market. If you wonder how to replicate that, then you should study this book.

What if regular household batteries were shaped so there was no way to put them in backwards? How much simpler would it be to deal with them. However, the batteries we have are now the industry standard. It’s basically too late to change. What a terrible missed opportunity. Don’t let your product miss out on simple but effective ways to work better with people. Read this book and think hard about your customers.