I appreciate that this question might not have a well defined scope but i am hopping that providing a context might help. So consider the aviation industry ( often associated with Human factor) as an example, but this could be applied to other industries such as rail, transport or others.

I have always been struck by the complexity of cockpit controls. Aviation specialists are always on the hunt for ways to reduce cognitive overload on pilots in order to reduce human error. That being said. air crash investigations have proven on a number of incidents that labelling, controls interactivity, affordances and other interface design issues impact on how pilots operate. So, I have few questions:

1- How do human factor specialists and user experience designers differ?

2- How does this apply when it comes to designing for other real life situations for example in avionics?

3- If UX and human factor specialists don't different that much. has anyone came across a situation where user experience skills were utilised within the aviation industry?


6 Answers 6


Short answer: They are meaningless corporate titles applied to people with similar (apparent) skills. They're the same.

Long answer:

1- How do human factor specialists and user experience designers differ?

It all depends on what definitions you ultimately settle on. I have held both titles of "Human Factors [something]" and "User Experience [something]", my knowledge and skill set didn't suddenly change when I moved from one to the other.

I've found that "User Experience" is the latest buzz title for usability professionals who generally apply their knowledge to software over more physical applications, with those individuals more commonly being referred to with a "Human Factors" title.

For the sake of the "UX versus Human Factors" argument I will use the idea that UX is more software oriented and Human Factors is more hardware/physical/ergonomics oriented.

If you go to UX is Not UI you will see a good example of how "UX" is contrasted with the software interface, but look at the UX side. Almost every bullet can be applied to Human Factors...

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When holding a "Human Factors" title, I touched every one of the bullets in the "UX" column for a hardware system. The language used in the "UX" list is very software driven, but any bullet you point to as software centric can easily be adjusted to line up with hardware system.

The one aspect of UX that has traditionally not been included in a definition of Human Factors is the "enjoyment" of the system. Human Factors (traditionally) is defined around making a system usable -- no matter if you "enjoy" working with the end result or not. A short article on The Definition of User Experience at the N/N Group has the following line:

Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.

This is not to say that someone with a "Human Factors" title isn't going to make something enjoyable to use. The "common" definitions of the fields simply differ with the addition of a strong focus on enjoyability.

2- How does this apply when it comes to designing for other real life situations for example in avionics?

I worked for a major aviation manufacturer for over 8 years. During that time my title always had "Human Factors" in it. In addition to work with cockpit ergonomics and design, I worked on software systems that would were destined to be used either up in the air or on the ground. I never had to change my title.

The company does have people with "User Experience" titles, which I discovered only after leaving. These people were focused on consumer software products (support and maintenance mostly), while people who worked on the planes (targeting software or hardware) tended to hold "Human Factors" titles.

3- If UX and human factor specialists don't different that much.

"User Experience" and "Human Factors" only differ to the degree of the definitions you apply to them.

My opinion, hopefully illustrated above, is that they are basically the same. The general public consciousness (in my opinion) tends towards "User Experience" being more software oriented and with a (apparent consumer oriented) "enjoyability" twist.

has anyone came across a situation where user experience skills were utilized within the aviation industry?

Yes; every day for a little over 8 years. My leaving the company didn't change that there are still dozens of very talented people still applying those same skills in the same context.

  • Closet , thanks for your answer, particularly with regard to emphasis put on hardware vs software.
    – Okavango
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:13

I Studied Human Factors in grad school.

In my personal experience, which may or may not be representative, the UX circle of a Venn diagram is mostly encompassed by the HF circle. The primary difference is that I learned very little about visual design, and a lot about biological/cognitive processes affecting perception and movement. We covered the same research methods, although ours had an added emphasis on traditional research methods.

TL;DR - HF was heavy in experimental research, cognitive theory, human movement/measurements, and the biological basis of perception. We learned very little about visual design.

  • Human factors is about getting things done effectively and efficiently.
  • User experience is about getting things done effectively, efficiently and effortlessly.

If the human factors engineers in aviation only learned from crashes, that would be a major difference to usability engineers and UX designers who try to anticipate possibly problematic design choices with several kinds of tests. I hope (and believe) that premise is not true, though.

  • 5
    As someone who worked in the aviation industry as a Human Factors specialist, the premise that we only learn from crashes is thankfully not true. :) Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 15:17

User experience specialists have to be human factors specialists.

User experience is (mostly) human experience. Its what the user lives during a precise activity, and what he lives is a combination of differents perceptions (feelings, emotions, meanings, ...) wich are the consequences of differents factors, including human factors.

  • User experience is what the user lives.
  • Human factors can be some causes of what the user lives.

Besides, user experience results in a positive or negative feeling wich is also a human factor for acceptance.

Studying user experience means studying some human factors.

Hope it helps ^_^


Just a personal opinion here - Human Factors Engineers (HFEs) shot themselves in the foot. A lot of people did not understand what HFEs did, so some one created this buzz word "UX" to describe a subset of their work. This took off and suddenly a large number of people with no expertise/education in cognitive psychology labeled themselves as UX Designers and now there is a lot of confusion. I agree with most answers above... Human Factors/Cognitive Engineers are people with deep knowledge about how humans process information, memory, neuroscience, eye movement, skill transfer/development, individual differences, trust in automation, statistics.. the list goes on. They apply this knowledge through experimental research and analysis.

Some may have/focus on their UX skills - aka applying this knowledge to research user needs, develop new workflows and user requirements and ultimately designs that support user decision-making. It's not simply making websites/apps look pretty, which is a common misconception.


This is easy to answer. Human Factors is an engineering discipline based in psychology that has been around for decades. It is comprised by over a dozen specific areas (exs. ergonomics, human-computer interaction, anthropometrics, human cognition). Human Factors Engineers have a Bachelor's in Psychology and then attain their Human Factors degree at the Master's level. However, there are a large number of practitioners who gain sufficient experience to work as an HFE without getting their Master's Degree. UX Designers come from a broad range of disciplines and quite often do not have a college degree at all. Some simply attain a usability certification. They focus specifically on the single Human-Computer Interaction portion of Human Factors. UX Design education programs typically teach user research and testing methods but focus mostly on the visual aspect of design and the human interaction with the design. UX Design is a limited version of Human Factors, while Human Factors is far more broad study of human cognition and human interactions with all aspects of a system design.

  • To add to kbd's excellent assessment, Human Factors also includes a long standing body of peer reviewed literature. It is an established field of science. UX is not.
    – perky
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 12:17
  • Agreed with kdb, HF is a broader field than just interface design ( it takes in Human Error for example ) see the website of the UK society for scope: ergonomics.org.uk/Public/Resources/What_is_Ergonomics_.aspx
    – PhillipW
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 7:41

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