Although the term ergonomics was first used in the late eighteenth century, it wasn’t until after World War II that the field known today as ergonomics really began to shape product design and human interaction with surrounding elements.
What Is Ergonomics? Today, ergonomics is something frequently touted by an array of professionals, from marketing and IT experts to those in the health care field. The problem is that some have a very specific and straightforward idea of what the term ergonomics means and others try to make anything and everything fit the term. The result is many that are seeking information on ergonomics walk away from the subject more confused than ever.
Evidence of the premise of what’s now known as ergonomics can be found by looking at ancient Hellenic civilizations and early Egyptians that used many ergonomic principles in their tool and workplace designs. The word is actually derived from two Greek words – ergon and nomoi. Ergon means work and nomoi means natural laws. So, ergonomics is the science of work and the human relationship to work. According to The International Ergonomics Association, the technical definition of ergonomics is a science discipline that’s concerned with comprehending human interaction with other elements of a system -and- a profession that uses data, principles, methods, and theory on a design so that it can be optimized for system performance and human well-being. A much simpler way to describe ergonomics is the science of making things around us both comfortable and efficient for our usage. Those that practice within this field are called ergonomists. Ergonomists are concerned with the science of work. They basically study work to determine how it’s performed and how it can be performed better. Ergonomics becomes useful to most every profession in that it attempts to make improvements to whatever work is being done by making things (products, processes, and services) around us more comfortable and efficient.
What Does Ergonomics Mean to Me? Now that the definition of ergonomics is clearer, users can better understand what they are most concerned with – how they use a service or product, how it meets their needs, and if they will like using it. The answers to these questions can be found by looking at the comfort and efficiency involved with ergonomics.
Comfort and efficiency go hand and hand, as comfort is one of the most important aspects of whether or not a design is effective. It goes far beyond just having something soft. Comfort in the mental elements of a service or product and during human to machine interaction are key concerns in ergonomic design.
Physical comfort in the human-machine interaction is often the first thing noticed during usage. Having this physical comfort from how the machine feels is important to users. Essentially, you aren’t going to continue to touch something that doesn’t feel good to you. Not touching it means you aren’t operating it, which thereby makes it useless. Any designer will tell you that usage is the only true measure of design quality. It’s their job to come up with inventive ways to increase the usage of their product or service. And, as mentioned above, comfort has everything to do with how often an item is used. Comfort also comes from mental aspects. What a product looks and feels like, its durability, and ease of use helps us make a mental evaluation as to if the quality of an item is congruent with what it costs. The more ergonomically designed a product or service is, the higher the quality and value perception about it will be.
Efficiency can essentially be viewed as making a process easier to perform. This may be in the form of making something more physically efficient by reducing the amount of strength required during the process, making something faster by reducing how many steps are involved in the process, reducing the amount of training or knowledge required during the process to make a task easier to complete and allow more people to safely perform the task, reducing the amount of parts composing a product to make repairs and upkeep easier, and so forth.
Much like comfort, if something is more efficient, then it’s easier to do, more likely to be done, and more likely to be done more often. Although often complicated by extensive technical terminology, the basic premise is that comfort adds to ease of use and ease of use adds to comfort, thereby making products more useful.