Below is the final product of the last five weeks of work. The methods, principles and practices talked about in the paper will be utilized to help with the next five weeks of designing.

Designing with Ergonomics and Human Factors

            Design is something that many people take for granted. We don’t quite realize that every man-made object that we have ever used has been designed by someone at some point (Norman). There are many different methods and considerations that one might use to design something. One of the most effective considerations is ergonomics: the study of efficiency in a system. When one applies this notion to design it addresses a method that focuses on creating human efficiency in products, making things more intuitive and easier to use. Although ergonomics gets applied to the workplace constantly, it can be applied anywhere. When deciding to use ergonomics as a method for design in domestic space there are several principles a designer should consider: the basics of design, human factors psychology, the basics of ergonomics and how to design for domestic space. In order to design something one needs to understand how design works; understanding the basics of the science of ergonomics leads to practical design.

Many people consider design to be purely an aesthetic field. Designers are praised and awarded when they create designs that are nice to look at and practicality becomes secondary. In fact, practicality is often times dismissed and not even regarded as important. As a result consumers are given products that are difficult to use and hard to understand. They must read through pages and pages of user’s manuals in order to understand how to use what should be a simple function. Another problem with design is quantity of functions. This is another area where practicality is disregarded. So many products these days have way too many functions, functions that most people don’t even need or want. Why is this seen as good design? Users put trust into designers; they believe that the designer has considered every possible problem with a design, therefore, every design that ends up on store shelves must be perfect. It is the users’ fault if they don’t understand how it works. However, there are many methods that a designer can use to help make their designs easier to understand.

One method is natural mapping; the practice of making designs intuitive by creating a natural mapping of functions, “Natural mapping, by which I mean taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards, leads to immediate understanding” (Norman, 23). An example of this can be found on a simple kitchen stovetop. For decades the burner knobs on stovetops have had the same horizontal design. They are placed straight across the top or bottom, yet the burners are placed in a 2×2 box. As far as natural mapping goes this design makes no sense. How would anybody be able to tell which knob corresponds to which burner? You couldn’t, not without the help of a small diagram by each knob. This is a bad design. Yet people don’t seem to realize how easy the fix can be. Instead of placing the knobs in a row on the top why not put each knob by a burner or put the knobs in the same pattern as the burners? You wouldn’t need the diagram and mistakes would be made much less.

The only way one can tell if a burner is on is by waiting and seeing if the pot heats up. This is an example of visibility, another design tool. Another word for visibility would be feedback. This allows the user to understand that what they did worked, “Make relevant parts visible” (Norman, 99). In the example of the stovetop, having a small light by each burner could tell someone that a particular burner is on. Although most stovetops have this feature, it could be more useful to place a light by each burner so if you turned the wrong knob you would be told immediately.

Another design tool that is important to consider is constraints. This is a tool that relies on the user’s understanding of how objects work. Constraints operate so that only one operation can be possible with a certain device. For example, with the stovetop, if a knob is placed by the burner, then logically there is only one thing it should do, turn the burner on. There are many different types of constraints. Physical constraints stop someone from pulling the knob instead of turning it. Semantic constraints which “rely upon the meaning of the situation to control the set of possible actions” (Norman, 85). Cultural constraints rely on culturally accepted conventions, stove tops have knobs for the burners, and therefore the knobs must control them. And logical constraints allow someone to make the connection that if there are four burners and four knobs then the knobs must go with the burners.

One of the most important design tools if affordances: the idea of possible actions. If someone looks at a door knob, then there are only a few things they can do with it. They can turn the knob but in order for the door to work they must push or pull. One typically tries both ways until the door opens; if the door does not open then it must be locked. Affordances give the user visual cues that tell them how to operate an item. Some of these cues are psychological but many of them are cultural. In the case of the doors, knobs are meant for pulling, plates are meant for pushing. When these get mixed up, errors can occur.

There are many different fields that a designer can benefit from. One of them is psychology. Psychology is the study of the human mind and why it does certain things. Therefore, a design process that incorporates psychology has to focus on the user. Designers recognize that they are not designing for themselves; they are designing for the user, the everyday person. Innovative and impractical designs belong in art museums. Products built for humans belong in homes for everyday use, places that humans interact with every day. Psychology comes into play by helping the designer understand how the basic human functions.

Errors are something that designers are constantly searching for. As a designer it is important to think about possible errors that can occur. One significant consideration is that people can only focus on one thing at a time (Weinschenk). When is focusing on measuring out how much vegetable oil is needed one may not realize that there is a fire on their stovetop. Although it is impossible to account for every possible error that someone can make it is still very important to understand how these errors occur and why. To help account for errors a piece of information that is useful is that people use peripheral vision more than central vision. This is an evolutionary predisposition that is useful because it helps people quickly scan their environments If someone is focusing on something with their central vision then putting up red flags in their peripheral vision can help reduce errors.

Understanding how people think is one of the most important things designers needs to know. It allows them to design things that are easy for people to use and understand. Something that is important to realize is that people can only take in so much information at a time. If people are told too many things at once then they will most likely forget, unless these things are presented in an easy way to understand. People understand things easier with examples, stories and patterns. So when designing a user manual, using examples of how things work is not a bad idea.

Mistakes are a common thing in life. People make mistakes every day.  So although we can design for mistakes we cannot make a fail-safe product. There are many different types of mistakes that a person can make. These can happen due to stressful conditions or confusing designs. However, there are important lessons that can be taken from understanding mistakes, “preventing slips before they occur and detecting and correcting them when they do occur” (Norman, 112). Don’t make it so consequences for mistakes are fatal. There should never be a button on a computer that deletes every bit of information that the computer contains. Most computers ask you multiple times before you delete something in case you want to keep it, and if you do actually delete something it is very rarely permanently deleted. It is just stored in your trash bin. You must go in a manually delete it yourself. This is one example of how mistakes can be corrected once they occur.

Psychology in design is something that should be noted of. One field of psychology is concerned with making things easier to use based on how people interact with their environment, this is called human factors. It is an important aspect of design because it focuses on the user and not the presentation. A large part of human factors psychology is usability testing. This is where companies bring in people to try out their products before release. This allows the company to see which designs are good and which are bad.

Although usability testing is an important part of design it is not utilized all the time. Many companies don’t even have a usability department and instead hire outside contractors to do it for them. Usability testing takes time. Companies must find a suitable population of people to test, which is called a sample, this can take a while, Then you must schedule appointments to conduct these studies. Since usability is not considered when buying a product it doesn’t really make much sense to be spending the time making a well-designed product that people won’t even notice anyways. People buy things that are poorly designed all the time. Bad designs have been around for years and instead of complaining about it people just assume it’s their fault and keep their mouths shut.

If more people understood the design process than maybe products would be better designed. People would have higher expectations. When something was designed poorly instead of just buying it and struggling with it until it gets replaced people would refuse to buy it. This would tell companies that their design was bad and that they need to fix it. Ergonomics and human factors psychology should be utilized more because it is possible to make something practical, useful and good-looking. We shouldn’t have to settle on just one of those things.

As previously stated, ergonomics is most commonly found in the workplace. This is because companies don’t want to deal with being sued over workplace injuries from poorly designed office items. However, ergonomics can be used anywhere. Anytime people are interacting with objects, ergonomics can be put into use. Whether it’s something as simple as a cup or as complex as a computer, there are ways of making things easier for people to use. The process of ergonomic design starts with understanding the measurements of the human body. Everyone is shaped differently, so to make something built specifically for every single individual is impossible and unrealistic.

When designing with ergonomics in mind, typically the average person body type is utilized, “it is not customary to design for everyone” (Tilley). There are ways to design products for people who are young, old or disabled, these are usually specialty items. To make something that is compatible with the majority of the population designers simply find the measurements for the average man and woman and choose something in the middle. It is also possible to use measurements for just one gender and make the product geared more towards that gender using psychological tools and gender typing.

Once it is determined what is being designed and who will be using the design, the creation of the actual design is possible. There are several things to keep in mind when designing things ergonomically. One idea is to keep the body in neutral postures. This means making sure the back is at a constant s-curve and that body parts aren’t being strained. When the body is taken out of its natural posture discomfort can arise (MacLeod). Also make sure that everything is easy to reach and are at the proper heights. One thing that can cause discomfort is static load: holding the same position for a period of time (MacLeod). Making furniture adjustable can help reduce static load.

Users typically don’t have much say in the design process but there are different ways that one can utilize design principles to make home life more comfortable, efficient and safe. For example, when one considers the layout of a room there are principles that one can make use of. One is reducing poor lighting and glare. Some types of light can be very hard on the eyes and will cause a lot of discomfort. It is important to design with this in mind. Don’t put large florescent lights above surfaces that reflect light well. The extra lighting can be a strain on the eyes. Also make sure that there is enough clearance. In order for a room to have a good flow pattern it is important to have all the furniture fit inside the room. This doesn’t mean that all furniture needs to be very small because having large gaps of space can also cause psychological discomfort. Simply have the same piece of furniture in different sizes. This way it can be placed in many different kinds of homes.

In the work place, efficiency is considered to be very important, which is why ergonomics is typically utilized there. But a home can be efficient too designers just need to understand how people function in the home. More often than not users find unique ways to fix problems and use their products. For example, if someone needs a hammer, instead of searching the house for one, someone might use any blunt sturdy object. It is impossible to consider all of the possibilities but it is important to understand them.

Efficiency for the home is important. People spend a large amount of time in their homes. So much energy is wasted in the home, not only from people trying to figure out how things work, but from heating, plumbing, and power. So much energy can be wasted if someone forgets to turn off a light or if there is a leak that the home owner doesn’t know about. There should be ways to remind someone of these errors. Not only is it more environmentally friendly but it will save the home owner thousands of dollars.

In summary, design is for the user not the designer; however, innovative, experimental and purely aesthetic design is important. It tests the human mind as well as the designer’s. Yet without practical considerations these types of design belong in art museums not homes. Practicality and safety are considerations that should be recognized more often. Designers often are, trying too hard to be innovative instead of useful. The home can be an efficient place if design time is put into the features of design such as; natural mapping, visibility, constraints and affordances instead of focus on increasing profit. Overall, design is more important than we think. If we stopped and gave credit to good design and rejected bad ones we might make a step in making the world a little bit easier to use.







 Works Cited


MacLeod, Dan. “10 Principles of Ergonomics.” Dan MacLeod Ergonomics Consultant. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2013.

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 1988. Print.

Tilley, Alvin R. The Measure of Man and Woman. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.

Weinschenk, Susan M. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. Berkeley: New Riders, 2011. Print.

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Ergonomic Design