Values Oriented Design

Final Draft – August 26, 2007

Values Oriented Design, VOD: The Future of Human Factors Engineering
By: Gary Wynn Kelly


In many professions, the profession itself is defined by “what the
professionals do”. Engineering for example, is what engineers do. The
activities of people define the discipline, and that discipline then
defines what people do who choose to participate in that discipline
at a later time.

The historic evolution of Human Factors Engineering, HFE, largely took
on the status of a profession after World War II, with the development
of aircraft and military systems that required more attention to the
man-machine interface than the technology did prior to that time. It is
safe to say that during the last 60 years, that more than 80% of all
the dollars spent on HFE has been for military systems. Largely, HFE
has not yet touched the majority of human activities.

It is not so surprising then, that the activities of HFE professionals
in the past 60 years have defined the discipline, for better or worse.
Since the majority of the effort has been focused on the development of
war machines, the discipline has evolved to serve the products of human
endeavor more than the processes. The prior art that helped to form
the basis for HFE was time-motion studies, efficiency studies, and
related observer-based disciplines. This is a perspective that it is
important to understand.

The following reference provides support to this perspective:

People as Machines
This job requires that you see human beings somewhat as machines.
They have cognitive and perceptual capabilities and limitations that
contribute to their research value.

The field of human factors psychology, introduced as a means for
designing safer and more effective war machines, has grown
exponentially to include everyday products, work environments, and
computers. Professionals study humans, their behaviors with a
product, their cognitive and perceptual capabilities and limitations,
and then apply this to the fields of design, manufacture, and
production. They do a lot of research and prediction work with
statistical procedures. If research, design, and problem solving
appeal to a student, this career deserves some further investigation.
It can be applied in various settings, and education in one of those
areas can be helpful for entrance into the field. For instance, a
background in computer programming, industrial engineering,
industrial/organizational psychology, medical technology, and
research is very helpful.

The Recent History

From the early days of the 20th century, time and motion studies
assisted in maximizing human performance over a variety of jobs.
Efficiency experts observed human performance, and from the observer’s
perspective, analyzed the tasks and components of systems in order to
determine the most efficient method for performing a set of tasks. The
human became a component, and was viewed as a machine that must
interface to other components in a system. It became important to
understand the physical and cognitive aspects of this human component
in order to gain an optimal interface with it and other essential
components. This approach received recognition when designing war
machines during and after World War II. The result is that traditional
HF efforts emphasize the product, component characteristics,
specifications, and performance factors, while excluding other factors.
This has worked well for many military systems, and many non military
systems, alike, NASA spaceflight missions, and emerging industrial

In traditional HF designs, with the human as the unit of analysis, the
person who interfaces to the system is defined in terms of
capabilities, input/output functions, and interface requirements. The
performance of the human is being maximized, as this may mean life or
death when the system is deployed on the missions for which it is
intended. The person is an integral machine component, with a goal of
mission success.

When psychology does enter the HF analysis, it does so through
cognitive or psychophysical performance. Thus, the human interface is
viewed as a filtering system, or processing system, with defined
characteristics that must match to the equipment.

The observer-based nature of HFE is towards viewing people as machines,
or components in relation to one another, or in relation to other
systems. Interactions among people and systems in terms of values,
emotions, and participant-based factors are not a part of traditional
HFE. This is a limitation of the traditional HFE approach.

The author submits that the traditional HF model, while valid for
military systems, and some other types of systems, is rarely
appropriate for other categories of human experience. While there have
been efforts at evolving HF disciplines with a different flavor, none
truly departs from the human as the unit of analysis. Even Interaction
Design fails to focus on the interaction as the unit of analysis, in
spite of the name. Experience Design, and the various User Centered
Design systems all orient to optimizing human performance, and assume
that this will produce and support a satisfactory “user” experience.
Conventional design philosophies analyze the human component, and the
non human components, then attempt to gain a match at the interface of
the two elements. The frame of reference in the design process is
still that of the expert observer, who may be viewing an interface, but
is examining the interface as an observer only.

This observer-based analysis might proceed with modifying the non human
components to have altered characteristics, or by training, enhancing,
or altering human components through psychological or physical
modifications. This process remains one of maintaining the human as
one fixed set of specifications and characteristics, that once
optimized, should perform at a specific criteria level, or performance

Traditional HFE then, is frozen to the frame of reference of observers
to the experiences of people, and fails to recognize the validity of
the experience of participants in human activities. A participant
frame of reference is lacking, and without it, the values, feelings,
and dynamic nature of participants cannot be understood, recognized, or
integrated into the design of systems to promote human interests.

Recognizing the Participant’s Perspective

It is the interactions that people have with one another that form the
significant meaning for what we value in life. The human side of the
human interface must be viewed in terms of those uniquely human
activities that are of value to people.

Internal participant emotional states, perspectives, and values are not
acknowledged in traditional HFE. Yet, it is those very factors that
become of prime importance when designing for most human activities.
It is fair to ask of what value is any design to people, if the most
salient design factors, participant perceptions, are absent?

For these factors to be recognized, the unit of analysis must shift
from the person to the interaction with community. To the
participant, the interactions are of importance. To the observer, the
actions or physical states are important.

For an interactive community model to be understood, it must be
analyzed from a different frame of reference. The observer’s frame of
reference is outward–towards the physical dynamics of interactions.
The participants frame of reference is inward, towards those
aspects of reality that make up the rich inner lives of participants to
human experience. Removing the most important aspects of a participant
from any design leaves the design empty of meaning to people. The
design is then an object, and no longer comfortably incorporated into
human experience. It is the interactions of participants with the
world around them that define the context of human experience.
Designing any system without this understanding is a mechanistic
process, essentially devoid of the human factors it purportedly

In rehabilitation, the human component must be dominant.
When a person experiences a disability, viewing the person as a
“machine” or component in a physical system, fails to recognize the
most fundamental of human values–that people see themselves in a context
to community–to other people, and that their most valued activities
are in relation to a community. This requires a view of people as
interacting in the processes of community. Their movements, their
communications, their acts of creation, occur in the context of a
community, with dynamic relationships among participants in the

The rehabilitation of persons experiencing a disability provides an
excellent model for the why of understanding the participant’s
perspective. Rehabilitation is, in the final analysis, a voluntary
process. This differs from the circumstances of military hardware
design, where the person may be compelled or motivated by circumstances
to maximize performance. In rehabilitation, motivation cannot be
assumed. It has to be engendered by the design, encouraged, and
enhanced in ways never understood by traditional HFE. The person
experiencing a disability simply does not have to do a thing to assist
the designer of any system to achieve a goal of value to the designers.
Unless the participant’s perspective is understood thoroughly, there
is no reason to assume motivation, and without motivation, the
participant will not participate.

Traditional HFE encounters problems with rehabilitation systems and
technologies. The observer’s frame of reference is inadequate to
providing more than a minimal amount of information that is required to
design for persons experiencing a disability.

The conceptualizations of disability are poorly defined. The very
language of English lacks any specificity in describing the experiences
of persons having a disability experience. Blindness is not seeing,
deafness is not hearing, and paralysis is not moving portions of the
body. None of the terms defines what the person does–only what the
person is not doing, as this is all that can be truly understood from
the frame of reference of the observer to such an experience. The
systems tend to evolve as compensatory systems–attempts to replace
functions that are perceived as missing, or failing in some respect.
Since the experience of a disability is not understood in any other
terms than the loss of function, there is no choice for the traditional
HFE approach except to restore function through some compensatory
mechanism first.

In the design of advanced military hardware, it is understandable that
designers will attempt to render a design that “overcomes limitations”
that are normally experienced by fighting components. The focus on
compensating for human physiological failures may serve the mission, or
ensure a mission success, and survival of assets. This same philosophy
applied to persons experiencing a disability fails, as it is anathema
to the experience.

This becomes difficult for people to understand who have no
disability experience as they, too, are observers to the disability
experience and see only what observers see–a loss of function.They
cannot join easily into the rich and full lives of participants to the
disability experience, and cannot understand that the mind is incapable
of experiencing a non-experience. The participant’s experience is
always a valid experience, and when that experience is denied by
observers, the validity of the participant as a human is being denied.

While it is understandable that an observer cannot comprehend or be
cognizant of the rich and full life of participants having disability
experiences, it becomes another matter to deny that those experiences
have any validity or importance in living. This risks diminishing
valid human experience, and reducing those participants having it to a
non human status.

The person having a disability benefits by learning to function as a
participant must–in harmony with changed circumstances. Making war
on various components that are extensions of the self, makes no sense.
One cannot be in harmony with oneself while “overcoming” personal
aspects or components that are interactive to daily personal
experience. To accept the perceptions of the observer only, requires
denying the experience one has as a participant. There is a paradox in
attempting to substitute one frame of reference over another.

To an observer, it seems that it is good advice to tell a person who is
losing vision to “learn to overcome” blindness by learning compensatory
behaviors that act as substitutes to “real” experiences enjoyed by
people who see. No participant to the blindness experience can ever
truly adjust to that experience until that person learns to live life
as a participant to the blindness experience–which is about valuing
processes over products, orienting to people and interactions of value,
and reforming old values to accommodate current experiences. As a
practical matter, this might mean that attempting to use a substitute
vision system, that one values instead, the ability to move through an
environment efficiently, unobtrusively, and independently, without
concern for the appearance, operation, or limitation of a vision system

Values Oriented Design, VOD

The author began his working career as an HF professional in
rehabilitation. During the first 10 years of employment, the author
came to doubt the efficacy of traditional HF models to adequately
address the problems of designing and developing new systems for
persons having disabilities. Having had personal experience with
blindness, and the personal experience of adapting to equipment
designed to assist persons with blindness, the author realized that
mostly, such approaches do not work very well, in terms of what
participants consider of value. In fact, there is an often quoted
axiom among persons who are blind about various technologies being
“what persons with sight believe to be a good idea for persons who are

Few designers realize that the experience of a disability is a dynamic
experience. It may begin with the participant having a primary loss of
function, but in most instances, this changes rapidly as that
participant acquires new skills, abilities, and methods that are at
first compensatory, and later adaptive in other ways to the altered
experience of life. This dynamic adaptation is not recognized within
traditional HF research.

In military systems, the human components are all trained on various
systems to be at some criteria level of performance *before*
interfacing with other system components. The performance is already at
some predefined level, and likely to remain within some defined range

This is seldom true in rehabilitation. The disability itself may be
changing over time, or there may be additional changes that impact
performance brought about by aging, or secondary health status factors.
There are adaptive components–the person is acquiring new skills and
abilities, or has evolved new methods for coping. A participant is
free to make personal choices, and over time, may become aware of new
values, or changed values, as a result of the disability experience.
This may cause the participant to make different life choices, and
change the nature of the interaction with other systems accordingly.
As an example, a person who becomes blind, may move from a northern
city where snow is an issue in having independent mobility for much of
the year, to a city in a mild climate, where there are no such
impediments to independent mobility.

It was this last accommodation that caught the author’s attention. While
conducting studies of the personal adjustment process to the disability
experience, the author captured the essence of what participants
experience when acquiring a disability, and adjusting to to that
disability over time and through experience.

Out of this research emerged the concepts of Values Oriented Design.
This research found that participants make value choices in regard to
their daily activities. These value choices evolve out of the
necessity of having to prioritize and plan activities in life.

Two Interactions with Community

The following analysis is critical to the understanding of how persons
with disabilities relate to the information world around them. To a
person who is blind, most of the world is represented in terms of
virtual information that comes through other people, or equipment, and
only rarely, in a direct access mode. An understanding of this
phenomena forms an entirely new basis for the participant’s
perspective, and an interactive modeling of disability.

In examining respondents’ statements by disability group, two factors
become apparent. First, those having a visual or hearing impairment
indicate that the primary problem they have in interacting with their
community is one of selecting the information in which they are
interested from the total information environment. Systems,
activities, and places remain inaccessible to them because they do not
have a ready capability to know of their existence, or if known, cannot
readily determine the method of access. This ranges from simply
reading a sign, or advertisement, to being visually able to find an
entrance, business hours, or a specific description of services or
products which are provided, to communicating successfully with persons
in, or associated with the system. Thus, they view their disabilities
as producing difficulty in interacting with the community because of
the lack of information.

For persons with a sensory disability to gain equivalent
information concerning activities normally available to everyone
else requires developing systems that efficiently select relevant
information for them. These systems often involve other persons or
equipment, either of which access the information directly, and
then act as intermediaries for those persons having a sensory
impairment. *This intermediary in the information flow can be
defined generically as a channel.* Thus, information access can be
defined as being indirect. The person experiencing the sensory
disability must learn to direct the channel in order to select
information which he or she may desire. The person experiencing
the disability can be defined as having secondary control to the
access of information. The channel itself may present limitations
as follows:
1. the information may be degraded by the channel,
2. the channel may not focus on relevant factors,
3. the channel may not always be accessible itself.
To access the channel may involve:
1. limited hours, (the person or equipment cannot always be
available 24 hours per day),
2. specificity of access (the person or equipment being accessed
is, or can be helpful in only one area, situation, or task),
3. Technical or social expertise may be required (accessing the
channel may require technical expertise or “street smarts”, or
combinations of both),
4. and in general, there is a limited channel capacity (the
channel can only transfer a finite amount of information per unit
time – which most often is far less than can be accessed directly).

Eleanor: “I am the one who has had to adapt – not only to my
blindness – but to the fact that I am not going to get the help
where I really want it. I mean, I get help, but it is sometimes
not where I need it!”

The person experiencing a visual impairment may
additionally be forced to spend considerable time in the
maintenance of the channel. This may involve social and/or
psychological aspects of behavior, or in the case of technology,
additional time may be required to “learn” the system.

April: “I get depressed because of the frustrations from my work.
I am always behind. There is so much to learn, and these computers
and new technology make it even more difficult to keep up even
though they are supposed to help me keep up. I have to spend so
much time learning to use the new technology.”

The second group of persons responding identified
themselves as having to be selective in accessing community
interactions due to the “effort” required. The source of the
effort came from several factors:
1. a possible physical effort of the individual to physically move
from location to location,
2. difficulty in accessing systems and persons through whom
movement from place to place becomes possible,
3. time limitations (indirect access through another person or
system is described as requiring more time),
4. quality of access, (the method of access demanded by their
disability is needlessly more difficult),
5. and limited hours of access (the times when other systems or
persons who can assist with access are described as being

Laurie: “I don’t get invited to a lot of things because I feel one,
it’s hard for me to go to certain places, and if they have
something happening in a place that is hard for me to get to – I
just don’t go.”

Paul: “Having to depend on other people to do things. . . . I
cannot get in and out of bed; I cannot dress; all of those things
are really a drag. I have attendants that I hire. It costs me a
lot of money. Basically, I have a big van – well equipped which is
going to cost me big bucks when I need to replace it. So I have
got to make a lot of money to get around all this stuff. This is
a hard place to make a lot of money. It’s been a real drag. We
are talking about $600.00 or $800.00 per month just for my
disability, or more, if I factor in all the hardware and everything
else. It’s like having a company and not getting paid for it. It
really is. . . . It is like running a little company that never
generates a dime. The thing about it is that it is not an enormous
amount of work. The whole situation is not an enormous amount of
effort at any given time. It’s just that for 365 days a year, 24
hours a day, with no vacation .”

Lance: “Before having a disability, I had a lot of control over my
own life, I was self-sufficient. I could operate and do whatever
I chose, without needing other people. I had the internal and
external capabilities to do that. Now, with a disability, I don’t
always have the external capabilities, and that means that I have
to ask at times if I’m going to do it. . . . It just adds another
step in the process of achieving my goals. You have to be aware of
what you are going to need in terms of help from other people, and
make sure that you put yourself in circumstances where that
assistance is going to be there.”

Additionally, many (48.7%) of respondents describe
themselves as experiencing some discomfort associated with their
disability. This discomfort ranged from chronic pain, to
occasional pain brought on by stress or prolonged activity, to
early fatigue, a product of physical weakness, or of the extreme
demands on physical resources to accomplish simple tasks. These
last variables often overlay those above, producing a matrix of
limitations which the respondents most often summarize as “effort”.
Thus, this population experiences a decrease in the frequency and
nature of interactions with community as a result of the effort
required to access the community.

Sarah: “I can be, on the surface, very ‘normal’ appearing one day,
and literally unable to move or get out of bed the next day. I
have had instances where I was walking around the streets, and only
a few hours later I was in pain, and forced to use crutches. So
literally, from day to day, almost hour to hour, my physical
condition can change markedly.”

Maria: “I get really get exhausted sometimes, and the pain level is
so high that it just wipes me out. My wrists will be throbbing;
I’ll have to stop. I see other people going like gangbusters, and
I feel well
. . . . I don’t know exactly what the feeling is. . . . I don’t
feel like a failure, but somehow less productive, or. . . so I work
more hours to do the same amount because I have to go slower, or
take breaks.”

Physical disabilities then, may be modeled as being of two
types. To model these, the author used the interaction of the
individual with community as the unit of analysis, rather than the
individual. By doing this, the interactions can be seen to be of
two types: information selective, and effort selective.

Sensory disabilities result in interactions with community
which require the person experiencing the disability to select the
information to which he-she desires to attend. The amount of
information available is far greater than the channels available to
the person to process that information. The person then must
select, or tune in on the relevant information. Relevant is
defined by each individual’s value system.

Persons experiencing other physical disabilities may be
said to have effort selective interactions with community. These
persons must select the interactions they have with community since
the possible interactions are far greater than the capability for
physically participating in those interactions. These persons make
choices, or select their interactions based upon individual value

Thus, it can be seen that there is an equivalency of the
two types of experience when viewed from an interactive
perspective, as opposed to a circumstantial perspective. This
interactive model for the disability contrasts sharply with the
more traditional models socialized into the population.
Traditional definitions emphasize the circumstances of the
disability, as opposed to the interactions as a result of the
disability. This interactive definition is more useful in
understanding the impact of interactions upon the participant to
the disability experience, and the appropriate methods for providing
interactive technologies.

The Evolution of Values Oriented Design

“Individuals interact with communications technologies in
fundamentally social and natural ways.” This is the summary
of Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass of Stanford’s Center for the
Study of Language and Information. They have conducted more than 35
studies involving how people interact with communications devices in their
environment. These researchers state that at a very basic level, there is
switch in the brain that flips one way for new media, and another to real
life. People have one orientation to how they interact with the world,
that is a human interaction.

Reeves and Nass claim that the responses to devices such as computers as
beings, is largely unconscious. No one thinks they do these things, but
studies clearly show that they do. The 1996 research of these pioneers
largely been ignored in the human factors design of systems and devices.
remains a hidden dimension of design, and yet is fundamental to the very
qualities we value most in life.

An interactive model of disability provides a basis for Values Oriented
Design. Since persons with disabilities may be categorized as having
either information selective, or effort selective interactions with
community, and that most often, these interactions occur through
channels that promote or augment personal capability, the designer can
then investigate the nature of interactions with the natural

Because channels represent interactive processes, it is clear that the
analysis must proceed interims of a process analysis, and not a product
analysis. The design is around interactive processes, and not towards
a specific product, system, or technology.

The respondents relate that they use value judgements in making
decisions as a result of interactive processes with these channels.
This shifts the design from being driven by circumstance, to being
value oriented to the process.

Analysis of respondents interactions with community established several
parameters as important to them. These qualities of channels remained
significant regardless as to channel category–information selective,
or effort selective. Thus, we consider these qualities to be

Mutual Respect – the maintenance of any channel requires mutual
respect. Appropriate demands, recognition of other commitments, time,
effort, or channel capacity, all demand mutual respect on the part of
both participant and intermediary.

As an example, a screen reader on a computer system for a person who is
blind, cannot talk too much. This fails to respect the information
processing abilities of the person, and is as obnoxious as having a
person who is acting as intermediary who will not cease talking, or
focuses too much on irrelevant information.

Open communication – intermediaries must communicate concisely and
clearly. Failing to communicate relevant information may become the
equivalent of deception or an unwarranted withholding of information.
Communications that are disguised, coded, or provided at times or in a
manner that is insensitive to time and place, are offensive and
potentially harmful.

Control – intermediaries and channels must act under guidance as
necessary, in order to promote any productive effort.

Trust – channels and intermediaries must be trusted to communicate
with integrity, as there is often no alternate method to verify the
information, or correct for time and place issues.

Cooperation – successful channels and intermediaries are cooperative in
nature. The channels “learn” to handle routine matters according to
agreed protocols, or may act as agents to represent the participant
faithfully at times and places where the participant cannot do so

Channels and intermediaries have a dynamic relationship to
participants. Because the relationships are values based, the
interactions evolve dimensions over time.

The participant may not automatically trust a new channel or
intermediary at first use. Trust is earned, and comes from a history
of mutual respect, open communication, and a track record that is
acquired with experience.

Locus of Control – As respondents changed their orientation from
circumstance oriented to a value orientation, they report changing from
a product orientation to a process orientation. This indicates a
change in the locus of control. Respondents went from assuming
responsibility for control on a product basis to an orientation to the
process. They report experiencing a higher satisfaction with the
changed orientation.

The emphasis of processes over products, and values over circumstances,
fundamentally changes the human factors interface. A product can be
packaged with specifications as to all expected characteristics under
specified operating circumstances. This is much of what traditional
HFE attempts to do. When the human component changes the orientation
to one based on the valuing of processes over products, and values over
circumstances, there are simply no measures within traditional HFE to
accommodate the design. The orientation of the human component within
the system changes fundamentally as the locus of control shifts from a
product orientation to a process orientation, and from circumstances to

The Future of Values Oriented Design

The values orientation of participants accessing the intermediaries
they use when interacting with community, places the responsibility on
the human factors profession to expand the definition of HFE to include
a values oriented dimension. These new dimensions do not replace
traditional HFE, but extend it considerably. The general work of
traditional HFE still must be done in most instances, but the VOD
engineer must be prepared to go much further into human dimensions than
traditional HFE professionals do.

This is only now becoming evident as cellphones become ever more
ubiquitous. The cellphone is an intermediary or channel to multiple
information sources. High end and middle market cellphones are not
just phones, but text message channels, email channels, and websurfing
intermediaries. The cellphone as an intermediary is encountering
challenges as it tries to fit into the lives of people in more ways,
and this will become ever more evident as additional features and uses
for cellphones put more demands on it as an intermediary.

It is worth a quick review of the information selective intermediary
limitations, to understand just how this is occurring.

*This intermediary in the information flow can be
defined generically as a channel.* Thus, information access can be
defined as being indirect. The person using a cellphone must learn to
direct the channel in order to select information which he or she may
desire. The person can be defined as having secondary control to the
access of information. The channel itself may present limitations
as follows:

1. the information may be degraded by the channel,
Every cellphone user has encountered this.
2. the channel may not focus on relevant factors,
The cellphone interface can be difficult to direct.
3. the channel may not always be accessible itself.
Cellphone coverage is still limited, both by geography and the built
environment, as well as security and social appropriateness issues.

To access the channel may involve:
1. limited hours, (the person or equipment cannot always be
available 24 hours per day),
Cellphones have limited battery life, and environmental issues may act
as additional limiters.
2. specificity of access (the person or equipment being accessed
is, or can be helpful in only one area, situation, or task),
Cellphone displays certainly limit use, as map access can clearly
3. Technical or social expertise may be required (accessing the
channel may require technical expertise or “street smarts”, or
combinations of both),
Anyone attempting to master a new cellphone, or additional features on
a current phone has had this experience. Most users know how to use
less than 10% of cellphone functions.
4. and in general, there is a limited channel capacity (the
channel can only transfer a finite amount of information per unit
time – which most often is far less than can be accessed directly).
Again, display issues, clarity issues, bandwidth, and other limitations
reduce the channel capacity to less than people can access directly.

Thus the non disabled population is now experiencing information
selection challenges due to the introduction of the cellphone as an
intermediary or channel to the information people find they require.

This affords an opportunity for an understanding and expansion of VOD.
People already find their cellphones frustrating in many ways, and will
find that as cellphones continue to add functions and features, that
the lack of values in the design limits their use. Cellphone etiquette
is already an issue in many public places. The current cellphone is a
channel, but lacks intelligence and any values orientation.

The blindness experience too, presents unique opportunities for the
investigation of VOD, and the extensions of traditional HFE approaches.
Persons who are blind must become information selective in order to
interact with the real world around them. At one level persons who are
blind experience the world in virtual mode–the world is represented to
them in terms of intermediaries or channels that most often abstract
the information, translate it, or code it into alternate forms for
processing. While this should be apparent on first viewing the
blindness experience, it is certainly not the practice of engineers and
scientists to do so.

By modeling the information selection and processing as a virtual
information flow process, it becomes quite evident that *any*
reasonable system that must act as an information intermediary for a
person who is blind *must* be value oriented. The person has no other
method of interacting with an intermediary or channel other than in
fundamentally human ways.

Unfortunately, the technologies developed for persons experiencing
blindness are too often product based. These products are software,
hardware, or integrated systems, which have product specifications and
performance criteria that are static, circumstance based, and are at
best, dumb interfaces.

If this evaluation seems harsh, one need only recall that the virtual
information flow to a person who is blind can always be modeled by
humans alone–it need not require any special technology. If one set
up a human interface chain between an information source and a person
who is blind, and examined the interactions in terms of VOD, it quickly
becomes evident that the author was being generous in the foregoing
evaluation. Simply put, no rational person would willingly volunteer
to have information come to them through such an human intermediary, as
comes through the technologies designed to provide it from current
adaptive devices and systems.

We all demand that our human intermediaries or channels, act with
mutual respect, open communication, respond to appropriate authority or
control, act with trust and integrity, and cooperate in a goal-oriented
manner. We quickly become dissatisfied with any human intermediary or
channel that fails in any of these respects, or worse yet, focuses on a
task orientation to the exclusion of any reasonable alternative. Such
an intermediary or channel would not be tolerated, as it is simply too
ignorant, rude, untrustworthy, uncooperative, and generally too useless
to maintain. We have little use for people in our lives who have no
orientation to our values, and promote a product orientation over a
process orientation. Most of us find such interactions, when they do
occur with people, to be unpleasant, conflict producing, and we choose
to avoid further interaction.

Yet, when a new technology is delivered to the blind population for
consumption, it is just this obtuse and impossible in nearly every
instance. It is excusable because it is a product–a technology, and
not all that different from those technologies given to persons who are
not blind.

Since human interactions *can be* conducted within the values of mutual
respect, open communication, trust, authority and control,
cooperatively, and with a process orientation, it becomes a matter of
choice to design a technology that does not do so. One could model the
information flow for a technology, and obtain value-oriented
performance by making the choice to do so. Values Oriented Design is
the design discipline of choice for an appropriate human interaction.
By removing the innate stresses consequent to value abrasive designs,
higher satisfaction and higher performance can be assured. An
orientation to processes over products, and values over circumstances
sets the design free from the limitations of ignorance and expediency.

VOD As the Future of HFE

The implementation of VOD requires that appropriate HFE principles be
followed, as an integral part of VOD. Psychophysics, cognitive
factors, anthropometry, and most of traditional HFE must be retained as
a basic structure or skeleton on which VOD is implemented. This
suggests that VOD itself is an extension of HFE into realms where human
values prevail as a required mode of interaction. One such realm is
certainly the engineering and development of systems and technologies
for persons who experience blindness. For this population, the
interactions with technology and assistive systems are ubiquitous.
This is a very different paradigm from the traditional designs of
military systems, where the use may be for short periods of time, hours
or even weeks are short when compared to a lifetime.

Traditional human factors and ergonomic professional associations may
wish to examine VOD as a potential extension of their current
definitions for HFE. The following definition was adopted by the
International Ergonomics Association in August 2000:

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned
with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements
of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data,
and other methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and
overall system performance.
HFES is a member of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA), a
federation of the world’s ergonomics societies.

The definition specified does embrace “well being”, and there certainly
can be no doubt that our values are what provide us all that sense of
well being we all seek.


Reeves, Byron & Clifford Nass (1996). The Media
Equation. CSLI and Cambridge.

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