A profile of the activities within the Human Factors Research department at AT&T's Bell Laboratories in 1981.
AT&T’s Bell Laboratories created the very first industrial Human Factors Research department at an American company, back in 1947. The department was quite small, containing just one specialist: John Karlin. Human Factors Research is sometimes known as ergonomics, but the way a human interacts with a machine or a system goes beyond simply physical space. Industrially, the practice of Human Factors Research combines psychology with engineering in order to refine a system and make it more usable, friendlier, more efficient. Karlin headed the HFR department from 1951 to 1977. Charles Rubinstein, who appears in this film, took over the department in ‘77. Human Factors Research at Bell Labs went well beyond that minuscule core staff of the 1940s: by the 1970s, the department had a staff of over 200, and by the time this film was made, staffers numbered more than 400.
Late in the film you see the human factors tests for car phones, tests that would later form the backbone of the AMPS cellular introduction by Illinois Bell in 1983. Notably, all research tests at the time were conducted while the test car was NOT in motion.
- John Karlin IHFT Speech, 2003: A great keynote on the history of the field, including some amusing and startling anecdotes about telephone design development.
- Human Factors Research at Bell Labs, 1982: From the Bell System Technical Journal.
- John Karlin Obituary, 2013: from the New York Times.
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ