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Definition of Ergonomics and Why it is Important When Designing Products

Updated on August 31, 2014

What is the Definition of Ergonomics

After reading some definitions of ergonomics on public forums such as Wikipedia and Yahoo answers. The definitions may leave you confused about what ergonomics really mean or at times thinking that it only has to do with computers. After completing my studies of which ergonomics was one of the subjects, l decided to write this article to enlighten others about this important subject.

The basic human sciences involved are anatomy, physiology and psychology, these sciences are applied by the ergonomist towards two main objectives: the most productive use of human capabilities, and the maintenance of human health and well-beingInstitute for Ergonomics and Human Factors

Simply put, ergonomics is the science of adapting products to suit both the physical and cognitive (mental) capabilities of the product user in order to enhance efficiency. Ergonomics touches on every aspect of life, from designing workspaces, computers, cars and so forth.

The ergonomist like in an other scientist, must carry out well designed research to come up with solutions that prevent for example injury to product users. Ergonomic products are designed to compensate for known human weaknesses such as limited information processing capacity.

The data from various sources about the specified population's body measurements such as height and weight is analysed through anthropometrics. The data is then used to inform ergonomic engineering of products to suit everyone usually from the lower to the upper quartiles of the population. Other minorities must be also considered such as left handers.

Cars are also designed according to ergonomic principles.

Controls must be designed according to ergonomic guidlines.
Controls must be designed according to ergonomic guidlines. | Source

Ergonomics is very important when designing products.

4 stars for Ergonomics.

What then is purpose of ergonomics and why is it important?

Ergonomics offer solutions to everyday challenges.

Well, remember the first Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) which allowed you to take cash from the machine before you remove the card. Thousands of people left their bank cards in the ATM machine because the goal will have been completed -that is withdrawing money. Taking back the card was a secondary task which was not the brain’s main focus. The ATM was therefore not ergonomically engineered.

Through ergonomics, the new ATMs makes it mandatory for you to collect your ATM card before you get the cash… problem resolved.

Ergonomics in the work place or industrial ergonomics.

Ergonomics is important in the workplace or work station because it stipulates safe or optimum noise, light, temperature and so forth which promote employee well-being. Workstation or office ergonomics also include the most convenient set up of desks and chairs in offices. Chairs are recommended to have adjustable height, back rests and elbow rests.


The definition of work ergonomics is adapting the job environment to suit the employee, rather than the reverse which is recruiting the best person to fit into the job. The two are however complimentary,because you still need right person to perform even an ergonomically designed job.

Recommended computer desk egornomics

How to set a computer desk ergonomically.
How to set a computer desk ergonomically. | Source

Computer ergonomics

Is one of the popular topics on ergonomics. The issues range from the usability of the computer software, interface and accessories.

Others prefer using an ergonomically made computer mouse and keypad. An ergonomic computer mouse allows to scroll up and down websites without getting a blister from rolling the wheel associated with traditiona computers. They use arrow keys located on the sides of the mouse. A wireless mouse was also ergonomically made because it eliminates the tangling problems associated with a mouse with a code.

Ergonomic computer key pads allow left handers to change the order of keys to suit their ability and allow the wrists to rest at a natural angle when using the keyboard.

There are also many other resources give guidelines on ergonomic seating when using the computer such as the distance of the screen from one’s eyes, monitor height and less stressful wrist position (see diagram above).

Tips on how to design ergonomic products.

  • Follow societal norms for example if red is usually associated with danger, putting up a danger warning sign in green may not produce desired results.
  • Utilise alternative human senses where possible –present auditory information to drivers instead of visually to reduce overburdening visual resources during driving.
  • Automate routine procedures – avoid reducing physical workload while increasing mental workload needed in monitoring equipment. For instance research has shown that cruise controls may reduce physical workload yet it reduces the driver's situational awareness due to cognitive overload.
  • Displays must set according to the Eye Reference Point (ERP) – user’s natural eye level. This is consistent with Head Up devices which display massages or images on a transparent background at the ERP level.
  • Use haptic feedback for warnings – vibrations are send to the user as a warning of a wrong action taken. Research has consistently shown that haptic feedback is more effective even when there are distractions such as high background noise. Additionally, it is difficult to ignore and cannot be muted when compared to auditory warnings.
  • Controls must be set according to known population stereotype – dials must be turned clockwise when increasing the desired attribute and any scales must be readable from left to right. There are many other issues to consider when designing ergonomic displays; avoid accidental activation through an increase in resistance or restrict how one access the control.
  • Place controls below the out put display to prevent the hand for blocking visual access to feedback.

What other principles of ergonomics that you can add to the list - leave your suggestion in the commentary box below.

Now you know what ergonomics mean in some detail. Products that are ergonomically made can be expensive due to research time and financial costs. Nonetheless, l cannot imagine living in a world in which products are not ergonomically made. After all we are all ergonomists in our on right because we find successful solutions to everyday challenges.

Products Improved Through Ergonomic Research

Product
Ergonomic Improvement
Possible Further Improvements
Leaving card in the ATM machine
Forced card collection before cash is dispensed
Produce warning sound if cash is not collected
Accidentally deleting information
Forced confirmation of deletion
Display the confirmation icon where it can not be clicked by mistake or impulse.
Failure to swith off car lights
Produce a warning beep to alert driver
Auto switch off when iginition key is removed
Children pacifiers getting dirty when they fall
Self Closing Pacifiers
None

Issues that may need ergonomic solutions.

Driver ergonomics.

  • why do we erroneously activate car wipers instead of the indicator and vice versa?
  • Why does a car allow you to lock its doors when the keys are inside?

Kitchen Ergonomics.

  • why do we still have burnt toast?
  • forgetting to switch the stove on or off is still a problem?

Think of other products that were not ergonomical and may need some redesigning to improve usability and enter then in the commentary box below.

Students will also get possible ergonomics Dissertation topic ideas and new start ups may pop up as they remedy suggested problems by coming up with improved products.

Lets hear your opinion about the usefulness of ergonomics.

Can Ergonomics Enhance Product Usability?

See results

What then does ergonomics mean?

Designing products that assist people to carry out task efficiently with minimal effort or injury. Ergonomics really covers almost every facet of life from computers, driving, workplace and so forth. Ergonomic research allows products to meet International Standards Organisation (ISO) standards and get certified for public consuption. Its principles allow product engineers to identify likely sources of error before a product goes on sale.

l can not wait for the day ergonomics will elliminate the need for user manuals, l really hate reading those booklets.

Lets hear what you want to be improved or redesigned in line with ergonomic principles in the commentary box below.

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