Be the voice of the user

Simon Ozbek in front of spacesuits at NASA

Determined to unite his passions for psychology and creativity, Simon Ozbek (MS ’20) discovered the College of Design’s human factors and ergonomics program. Now a human factors engineer at NASA, Ozbek describes his journey into the field.

Can you describe the field of human factors and ergonomics?

HFE is the study of how people interact with systems, products, and technology. We are commonly described as being the ‘voice of the user’ or a ‘champion for the user’ in the development process. By involving the users’ input we can better ensure a product that will satisfy their needs.

What drew you to the program at the U of M?

Diversity! HFE is the combination of three general domains of knowledge: psychology, design, and engineering. This is because you’re dealing with people (psychology) as well as systems, products, and technology (design/engineering).

Depending on the industry and a company’s culture, one of these three domains may be favored over others. I felt inclined to obtain a wide breadth of knowledge and skills in each domain. The program at the U of M gives you that flexibility and allows students to tailor classes around their interests.

I get to work on a spacecraft that will actually orbit the moon with astronauts working and living inside it! How crazy is that? ~Simon Ozbek

What does your job entail as a human factors engineer at NASA?

My role focuses on ensuring that human factors requirements are met. I do this by first understanding how a system works and determining how astronauts will interact with subsystems such as communication, environmental control, life support, and more. I then identify potential errors that could lead to a catastrophic event—a loss of life and crew or loss of a vehicle. Then I help to redesign the subsystem in a way that will reduce or eliminate errors.

What has been your favorite project to work on at NASA?

Part of NASA’s recently announced Artemis program—a plan to return to the moon by 2024—is the construction of the Lunar Gateway. This space station will not only orbit the moon to provide strong communication with Earth, orbital adjustments, and landing assistance, but it will also help us prepare for future missions, such as our mission to Mars. My favorite project is one of the multiple modules that will make up the station, a spacecraft called HALO. I mean, I get to work on a spacecraft that will actually orbit the moon with astronauts working and living inside it! How crazy is that? ...I can’t wait to one day look up and see HALO orbiting the moon and say, “I helped build that.”

What advice do you have for students interested in applying to HFE?

Just start. Whether it is starting the application process for the HFE program, or asking for an informational interview with one of the HFE professors. I never thought I would be where I am today, and I definitely didn’t have all the answers, but looking back, one of the best decisions I made was to start.


This story was adapted from the original, created by the College of Design.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Graduate Program is an interdisciplinary program with faculty representing the College of Design, the College of Science and Engineering, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Public Health, and the Carlson School of Management.