About Usability and Interactive Technology Lab

The Usability and Interactive Technology Lab (Use-IT Lab) is a human factors/ergonomics research and development lab. Use-IT has been in existence since fall 1996 under the direction of Professor Carolyn MacGregor.

The primary focus of research in the lab is on performance and usability issues concerned with interactive technology and virtual environments. We are a research and development lab. We use user-centred design approaches to develop and test both hardware and software applications. Our main goals are to understand and improve user experience .

Usability and Interactive Technology Lab

What is human factors/ergonomics?

Human factors, or ergonomics, is a multi-disciplined area of study that applies the knowledge of human capabilities and limitations to the design of tasks, tools, and systems.

The main objectives of human factors/ergonomics are to maximize comfort, efficiency, and productivity for the human, while minimizing the risk of errors and injury and their related costs.

Human factors as a term for this area of research and application has been widely used in the United States. Ergonomics is the term that is widely used in Europe. In Canada, professionals in the area use the two terms a bit more specifically. The division of labour and application has tended to centre around the human neck (MacGregor, 1998). Ergonomists (primarily those with kinesiology backgrounds) tend to focus physical, or "neck-down", ergonomics with an emphasis on understanding the role of human movement and posture in work. Human factors professionals (primarily those with psychology and engineering backgrounds) tend to focus on cognitive, or "neck-up", ergonomics with an emphasis on information processing issues related to work. However, recognizing that all work involves both physical and cognitive components, it is important that students in the area gain an appreciation for both neck-up and neck-down ergonomics.

Undergraduate and graduate programs

The University of Waterloo offers a unique opportunity for students interested in the study of human factors and ergonomics.

Courses are offered through two departments: the Department of Systems Design Engineering (Faculty of Engineering), and the Department of Kinesiology (Faculty of Applied Sciences).

The Department of Kinesiology offers a formally recognized undergraduate co-op option in ergonomics. The Department of Systems Design Engineering offers a set of courses in human systems and design.

Students interested in human factors and ergonomics are encouraged to take courses from both departments. This approach allows students to be exposed to experts and research areas in both physical and cognitive ergonomics.