Archive for the ‘Product Design’ Category

I, like many of you, am addicted to the iPhone.  This love affair began almost 14 months ago; together my iPhone and I have surfed the web, dined in the finest restaurants, navigated the world, and downloaded app after app. We’ve Tweeted, Friended and Linked.  I think it’s forever. No…I know it’s forever.

Today, the company responsible for my iPhone introduced a new member of the Apple family, the Apple  iPad.  Would it be love again?? Would this iPad wiggle it’s way into my life and my affections?

Sadly, what began with such promise and hope…is now dashed.  While my iPhone love has transformed my life;  how I make phone calls, surf the web, connect to friends and clients through social media like Twitter, Linked In and Facebook, and yes, even update this blog – the iPad is little more than a giant iTouch.  It’s a ‘tweener’ product, elbowing it’s way into the Apple family portrait.  Bigger than an iTouch with a larger QWERTY touchscreen  but without the computing power and reach of the Apple Powerbook lines.  

Beyond my personal realization that the Apple iPad doesn’t seem to have a place and purpose in my own life, our ERGOLAB team has some deeper concerns with the ERGONOMIC implications of the product.  We already know that laptops can create significant Ergonomic challenges without tricking the tool out with accessories; docking station, keyboard, keyboard tray, monitor, monitor arm and wireless mouse.  Once we have pimped out our laptop with Ergonomic accessories, the configuration must be adjusted (ideally by a trained Ergonomist) to ensure neutral body postures and avoid injury.   WHEW…exhausting.

The Apple iPad has all the Ergonomic challenges associated with the laptop AND takes another step in the WRONG DIRECTION.  Typing on the iPad touchscreen while the iPad rests on a flat surface will force the neck into more extreme static neck flexion or extension depending on the users posture. Eye strain is also a risk.  TRANSLATED – typing on the iPad for any stretch of time will create neck pain, possible eye strain and could cause injury. 

The ability to attach a keyboard to the iPad (the iPad Dock) was a good move by Apple; but no consideration was given into the lack of adjustability of the height of the screen once it is attached to the iPad Dock. This was a missed opportunity by Apple to address head-on the Ergonomic issues related to laptop use (these issues are well-documented).  The ability to telescope the iPad up and down would allow the iPad to be adjusted to the proper height for the user, ensuring neutral neck postures and subsequently, comfortable viewing.

Take a look Flybook’s VM Theory laptop – pictured below – the solutions are out in the marketplace; it is a shame Apple didn’t take this opportunity to address the Ergonomic limitations of small format computing (laptop and tablet formats).

What are your thoughts on the Apple iPad?  We’d love to hear from you.

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“In my 28 years of attending the CES and participating in it and being a part of it and running it for most of that time, I can honestly say there will be more innovation at this show than any one in history,” Gary Shapiro said.   (President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association on CNN.com )

The clock is ticking…the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens in only 3 days.   The annual Bacchanalia of gadget freaks, tech-heads and gamers, CES new product REVEALS will dominate newswires for the next few weeks.  You, the global consumer, will be inundated with marketing messages that promise tools and technology that improve your life, your work, make you a better person (LOL).  

Our ERGOLAB team is a skeptical bunch. Ergonomists tend to view words like innovation a little suspiciously. It doesn’t promise improvement within an existing paradigm; only something new.  History shows us that it’s the exceptional brand that takes human ERGONOMIC needs into consideration when developing a new product.

When wading through CES RSS feeds, use caution, many of the products will fail to live up to a simple Ergonomic Assessment.   Our ERGOLAB team will be evaluating some of the new computing and communication tools; we will share our thoughts on this blog.

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Every year I participate in a Secret Santa gift swap with family, our spend limit is $100, so this usually allows your Secret Santa to buy several different gifts.  This year, I had only one item on my list; I had stopped into a Brookstone at the local mall and fell in love with their n•a•p® Massaging Bed Rest (picture to left).

I am a big late night reader, this product seemed to have it all, soft fabric, foam cushions, LED , massage all for the low, low price of $99.  Well I received my present, unwrapped it  and I took it for a test drive last night. A letdown of major proportions. 

I am so disappointed that this product did not live up to its potential. The idea is a good one, the design elements are smart and make sense individually. What’s unfortunate is that these elements don’t work in the final integrated product. 

Design elements I like:

  1. Ultra-plush, NapSoft® material, LOVE IT, soft and cushy. I own and LOVE Brookstone’s slippers.
  2. Built-in massage, what’s not to like.
  3. Focused, super-bright LED light bends into any position – a great feature.
  4. Side pockets for remote, books etc
  5. Cup-holder in the LEFT arm
  6. Folds flat for easy storage under the bed

So….with all these fantastic features WHY doesn’t this product work?   My guess…this product designers didn’t investigate how people would use this product in the real world.  This product is a real world example of bad ERGONOMIC DESIGN.  

So…what doesn’t work?

  • I am 5’6″ tall with an average torso length – the product is not large enough to accomodate someone of my AVERAGE size.  Did anyone test a product prototype during the design process?  This design deficiency should have been obvious.  
  • Lacks adjustability – the lower 5th percentile of the population (under 5’2″)  are the ONLY people who might find this Bed Rest comfortable. 
    • The head rest on the product is not adjustable up/down; the headrest pushes my head forward, putting pressure on the neck and shoulders. 
    • The armrest design is flawed; they are too short to support my arms comfortably, at too tight an angle to the torso (a tight 90 degrees) and don’t adjust in/out to allow for comfortable arm position.
    • The Bed Rest does not recline, it adjusts ONLY to a 95 – 100 degree angle. Ergonomics and Human Factors 101 tells us the human body is most comfortable when the waist is at a 120 degree angle in the recline position.  The forced position will cause lower back compression and discomfort.
  • The cup holder is a useless feature. With the armrests being too short, the cup holder falls under the elbow. First, this causes friction and discomfort with the elbow, second, anything placed in the cup holder will most certainly be knocked over.  

So….today I am heading back to Brookstone to return my gift.  Now where is that gift receipt???

What have I learned?

TEST the product…don’t just fall in love with the features.   (Apply this lesson whenever you are buying an Ergonomic product – secure a demo if you can, use the product for a few days to see if it works for you)

Considering that I work everyday with design-obsessed Ergonomists and Human Factors experts, you’d think I would have asked around BEFORE selecting the product. 

So….I am still in the market for a Bed Rest with all the bells and whistles that actually works…..any suggestions?

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The best product design is simple. No extra parts, pieces, complexity.

Great design is everywhere around us, usually in those products, tools, items we take for granted. Why is great design so often overlooked?  Easy…it doesn’t get in the way of the user’s experience and impose itself on the users consciousness. It’s simple, requires few (if any) instruction. Think of the Honeywell thermostat – standard in American homes in the last century – simple, easy to use and understand. Nothing more or less than it needed to be.  It’s simplicity made it a classic.  The Coca-Cola bottle, slipping easily into the hand, textured for grip, an iconic bit of packaging that all other CPG manufacturers envy.  A personal favorite, the Swiss Army Knife, the end all be all, a personal disaster recovery plan.   

As ergonomists, the ERGOLAB team is constantly kicking the tires of office tools and products.  What attributes and accessories make sense…feel right…work properly. Which ones get in the way of our user…detract from their experience (or worse, contribute to injury).  In our experience, simple is better. Unfortunately, simple is a hard when your product is meant to support and empower the human body.  Our bodies are all so different, we move, shift, lean, tap.  We’re tall, short, fat, thin.   Some manufacturers do it better than others…candidly, those are the ones we promote.  Companies like Humanscale, Workrite, Bodybilt and Contour Design are raising the bar.  Go see for yourself.   There are some other ‘sexy’ names out there, particularly in seating…don’t get blinded by the gadgets and flash.  A $2,000 chair can do as much damage as a folding chair.

By the way….the attached image from DESIGNSPOTTER  is what inspired this post.  This design is so smart, elegant, a real thing of beauty. A re-usable handle for a throwaway cup, not as sexy as a new Apple product or sports car design, but still WOW.

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We’re very excited about Safco’s AlphaBetter children’s desk. Designed by an elementary school teacher who was frustrated with existing desks / seating solutions – AlphaBetter makes sense.  Kids can sit or stand, the worksurface adjusts quickly and easily.  The swinging footrest is so smart.     Take a look at the NY Times article on the impact the product has made in one school district!


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