One module I did during my HCI-E course at UCLIC this year was Ergonomics. Because my background is originally in designing web interactions, front-end development and graphic design, I was fascinated by the physical side of Human-Computer Interaction straight from the beginning.
I haven’t got enough time to explain what is anthropometrics (describing physical attributes of target population) or task analysis (vast range of methods allowing to map interactions and processes and to analyse them) here and now. I’m not going to argue how useful might be fitting trials and why having standards and guidelines (UX & UI designers call them pattern libraries and best practices) gives ergonomists great advantages.
All of that knowledge seemed to be so interesting.
But then I thought – how can I use all this in my UX consulting job? Why should UX designer care about ergonomics?
Answering this question wasn’t challenge at all. If you are not sure, here are some suggestions from the top of my head:
How can ergonomics improve the UX of affective systems? Let’s pass on the mental hygiene for now (it should be an ergonomic consideration, but it would make a blog post on its own) and let’s focus on the physical side of ergonomics.
Take an example of a system that monitors user’s facial muscle contractions to evaluate emotions, such as EmoVision. Immediately, the ergonomic implications are quite clear – the position of the camera is very important, as well as it’s capturing angle and distance from the user. Anthropometrics is an answer to this problem.
Want another example? Let’s think about games where player’s movement can play a huge role in the level of immersion and experience. Hint? Think Kinect, Wii, car simulators and various augmented / virtal reality games. The ergonomics of the sensors and game controllers or gestures should not restrict the player in any way that might decrease the game immersion.
Smart devices, ubiquitous systems and internet of things
My dream is to design The Next Device. Of ourse you know what I’m talking about – that super-smart device packed with sensors and connected to the web, that will make our mundane tasks more enjoyable, is sustainable and available for all and will make a real change in the quality of our lives. Who wouldn’t want to come up with something like that?
But here are the issues, such as size, shape and material of the device. The way how is it controlled. Careful definition of target population and limiting users is crucial – what if the device should be targeted mainly on blind users?
Ergonomics equips us with a range of frameworks that will help us to take the holistic view (such as the Hexagon-spindle model), will lead us with a range of knowledge, standards and guidelines, that were researched and collected over decades and will provide us with knowledge about physical side of the user. Although we are not talking about the cognitionand perception now, we might consider factors like short-term memory or colour blindness, that are well documented in ergonomic standards.
Last but not least…
The UX designers rarely think about themselves as about end users, even though we are – all the time, in our daily lives. Nonetheless, there are certain times when UX designer or HCI expert is one of the end users of a device designed mainly for them – and that is in case of eye-tracking devices.
Let me share with you my personal experience. I’m passionate about data that can be mined out of the proper eye-tracking research. Every time when I set up a session, I run the preview test. I have to calibrate the device to my eyes – and here lies the issue, because I have quite unusual eye problem.
I have to position myself quite uncomfortably and still, most of the time, the eye-tracker can’t track me properly – and to be honest, the device I’m talking about is one of the best I worked with so far. Clearly I wasn’t considered to be a part of the target population.
The design of the eye-tracker would benefit from a infra-red sensors that could be positioned according to the user’s needs. Again, an easy task for anthropometrics and some fitting trials.
Clearly, I can go on and on, coming up with other examples – touch screens and gestural interfaces, finger reach and a danger of repetitive strain injury, button sizes (although that might overlap with Fitts’s Law).
I hope you got the point. My goal wasn’t to explain the methods and frameworks of Ergonomics, or to go much into the detail. Others have done it much better than I would do. I just wanted to get across the idea why you, as an UX, should even bother about Ergonomics.
So If you want to take your designs out from the comfort of the web into the physical world, Ergonomics will be one of your best friends. Take some great reading from here, here or here and keep designing.
Do you have an opinion about this? Please share your experience and knowledge below!