Award-winning student organization focuses on human factors in design

How can a medical device be made easier and more comfortable for the person using it? What factors go into designing a cockpit so a pilot is less likely to make an error? What are the human limitations for safe cell phone use while driving?

These are the types of problems that face today’s human factors professionals, who must have a knowledge of psychology, engineering and design.

A student group at the ASU Polytechnic campus is made up of people who are interested in making devices and systems more efficient, safer and easier to use. Most of them are majors in applied psychology and engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation. They host workshops, conduct mock usability exercises on products and network with industry professionals.

HFES ASU student chapter, just entering its second year, has won a prestigious Gold Level award for outstanding student chapter from their national parent group, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

“The HFES student chapter at ASU is vibrant and innovative,” says Nancy J. Cooke, professor of cognitive science and engineering, who serves as adviser for the group. “They have done a great job at bringing in guest speakers and alumni to speak to them about human factors work in industry, and they have held some very creative workshops. Their recruiting activities have doubled student membership.”

Emily Hildebrand, president of the chapter and doctoral student in the Simulation, Modeling and Applied Cognitive Science program, says the field is growing as businesses look for ways to make their products more user-friendly.

“No one likes to get a new gadget and not know how to work it, or to be in a work space that is physically straining,” she says. “We want to make things more efficient, safer and more satisfying to use.

"There are so many options for students in this field, including consulting, usability testing, product development, user-centered design and many other research opportunities. It’s all about taking the user into consideration before designing anything.”

Networking for internships and jobs is a key function of the student organization, she says. They also attend professional conferences in the field and even conducted a fundraising program this summer to help a member whose family member was injured in an accident.

Prashanth Rajivan, treasurer for the organization, was awarded the Best Student Paper at the HFES annual conference in San Diego this month. His paper was chosen out of 53 entries.

Hildebrand, whose hometown is Diamond Bar, Calif., came to ASU Polytechnic because of her interest in human factors. She received her master’s in applied psychology from ASU in 2009.

For more information on the organization, go to