Friday, March 04, 2011

Why designers should pay more attention to ergonomic issues

Article in Engineer Live, March 2011. Interview with Gary Davis from Davis Associates

Gary reports a number of reasons why 'forward thinking' companies are taking ergonomics seriously. They include:

* Changing demographic; by the year 2020 half the adults in the UK will be aged 50 or over and the number of older people in the world will double to 1.2 billion by 2028. Inclusive design, in which products and services are usable by the widest possible range of people, therefore provides access to an expanding market.

* Usability is now considered to be a minimum requirement and the requirement is to make a product more pleasurable to use and to give it the 'wow!' factor. Ergonomics is becoming recognised as something that can create a commercial advantage

* Pressure from legislators. For example, ISO11064 Ergonomic design of control centres, Equal Treatment Framework Directive 2000/78/EC) and new EU Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC places a much greater emphasis on ergonomics than its predecessor).

* Ergonomics is a good way to protect a brand or strengthen it. If your products gain a reputation for being user-friendly, this can become important in markets where product differentiation is otherwise difficult."

* Conversely, the relatively new phenomenon of websites providing consumers with the opportunity to review products can damage brands if products are found to be unsatisfactory.

* If you consider ergonomics from the outset, you are less likely to have to make last-minute design changes

* If products are intuitive and comfortable to use, this reduces the need to provide after-sales support, plus it helps to minimise the number of product returns and warranty claims."

* Applying ergonomics to operator workstations can improve safety, reduce the opportunities for errors to be made, and raise productivity.

Quantifying the benefits of improved ergonomics can be difficult, but one area where this is done routinely is in website design, particularly for sales-orientated sites. Indeed, a specialist industry has evolved to improve website usability - which can be translated very rapidly into increased sales and, ultimately, profits that far outweigh the costs of the usability consultancy.

Elsewhere, of course, investing in ergonomics can reap rewards in the early stages of a project and at other points too - such as when alternative concepts are being assessed, and when pre-production units are available for user trials. Almost any level of ergonomics input can benefit a design, resulting in improved consumer satisfaction, appeal to a wider range of users, enhanced safety and so on.

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