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Posts Tagged ‘Product Design’


I can remember when I started out in the professional world, my father gave me some advice, in his words, “In business there are 3 things you NEVER discuss”  (for fear of offending or alienating with anyone with a differing point-of-view);

1. Religion

2. Sex

3. Politics

Well….after our blog post 2 days ago on ERGOLAB’s concerns with the ergonomic issues of the Apple iPad, I am nominating another topic that is not open to discussion or questioning. 

    4.     Apple (and anything having to do Apple, it’s products, leadership etc)

The response from Apple nation was impressive and loud. Apple has a fantastic reputation for excellence in product design; creating products that anticipate consumer needs intuitively. Apple users are passionate and proud of their community.  

Some reader comments;

– Apple might be leaving the heavy lifting to the after-market.  Similar to the iPod series, the iPhone, and the iTouch, Apple is relying on the secondary market to address the ergonomic issues around the product; outside ideas and design will fill the gaps.  If this is their thinking, we are a little disappointed Apple did not address the issues within the core design.  This device does not come cheap; after investing $499 for the iPad unit; ergonomic accessories could add another $100 or more to that price tag.  Our concern is that many consumers will do without the enhancements; due to budget or ignorance of the ergonomic risks.

– Under pressure to deliver a tablet device to the market (Apple’s original target date was October 2009), Apple chose to release an interim model. An enhanced version will be offered at a later date. If this is the case, delay your purchase and wait for increased functionality and sound ergonomics. Particularly if you plan on using the iPad as a small format ‘writing’ or ‘creating’  tool.

-Loving the iPhone and slamming the iPad is hypocritical.  Yes, the iPhone poses some ergonomic issues, texting being #1 on the list.  Human Factors research proves that the mechanics of texting, regardless of device, are damaging.  I would counter your comments with this; the iPhone was never positioned or marketed as a replacement for the laptop.  The Apple iPad is being marketed in this way; a SLIPPERY SLOPE in our eyes. People will use this device for writing, with or without the iPad Dock accessory, that usage is high risk. 

– A very agitated Apple worshipper demanded that I return my iPhone, my laptop and go back to those big ugly, clunky desktops of yesteryear.  I hit a nerve with him. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Apple iPad has ergonomic flaws. 

Take a look at the Apple provided promotional photo to the left, our ERGOLAB team identified several risk factors FROM APPLE’S OWN MARKETING MATERIALS!

Photo 1 – The left hand holding this device is in EXTREME STATIC ulnar deviation, which is a well-known risk factor for the wrist.  Check out the extended index finger; this product will lead to overuse of the index finger due to repetitive and prolonged scrolling. Don’t get us started on the risks to the ‘one-finger’ typists who will use iPad for emailing, document creation and more.

Photo 2 – Both wrists are in EXTREME STATIC wrist extension. This position is often the culprit, in causing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and other wrist Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI).

These identified risks scratch the surface ergonomically.  The Apple iPad is not well-designed to support computing – writing emails or creating documents.  Typing on the iPad, while it is laying on a flat surface, creates static neck flexion which causes discomfort, pain and possibly REAL INJURY. 

If you buy this product – do not type for long stretches. Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) can and will occur.  If you choose to adapt your iPad; adding the docking system and keyboard, static neck flexion is reduced, BUT STILL PRESENT.  Injury is possible even with investment in the iPad Dock with keyboard.

The bottom line; using this device ‘as-is’ poses real risk of injury. It’s our responsibility at ERGOLAB to surface these issues, it’s our job, it’s what we do.  Just don’t shoot the messenger.

What’s your point-of-view on the Apple iPad?  We’d love to hear from you.

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Is the term Ergonomic overused?

Everywhere you look, products are touting their Ergonomic qualities and benefits. A quick walk through an office supply or electronics superstore surfaces dozens and dozens of products that allege ERGONOMIC superiority.

So…how do we, the consumers, KNOW that this claim is valid. The reality….we don’t.

The claim Ergonomic has no legal standard or guideline. The consumer has no real protection from unscrupulous manufacturers and resellers who slap an Ergonomic claim on their product; and then fail to deliver. Or worse…actually do harm to the user who has a reasonable expectation that the product will meet their ERGONOMIC requirements and uses the product in good faith.

The term Ergonomic has gone the way of past marketing buzzwords like “Fresh”, “Lite”, and “Green”. Those terms are now policed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), there is a duty of care and claims must be valid and proven. Is that coming for the word ERGONOMIC?  Maybe. The challenge with Ergonomics, is that no product alone is ERGONOMIC. Who, How and Where the product is used also factors into the Ergonomic equation. You, the consumer/user, factor into the equation.   

When considering a purchase of any product that claims Ergonomic benefit – slow down and do your homework;  

  • Check with the experts, ensure the product comes from a source with history and integrity. 
  • Does the product offer maximum adjustability, to adapt to you, your body, your home or work environment? 
  • Is training or detailed instruction provided on the product?  
  • and last….your adherence to proper usage is essential.

Don’t fall for the marketing hype – be an informed consumer.  The term Ergonomic is everywhere in product marketing, learn to separate the quality products and solutions, from the frauds.   As they say, “Caveat Emptor”.

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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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Growing up in Western PA and West Virginia; most living rooms or dens showcased at least one, maybe two recliners.  Much loved, the right to sit in these thrones was dictated by the family hierarchy; think Archie Bunker. When Archie got home from ‘the plant’, no one had better be sitting in that chair.  

If you were very lucky, your recliners were tricked out with all the bells and whistles. Full recline with footrest, heat, maybe massage (in those days vibration) and a pocket to hold the TV Guide on the side. The chair was covered in plush upholstery or corduroy or faux leather; real leather was the exception, not the rule.  Neighbors and friends with a leather recliner were obviously doing well for themselves. 

My hunch is that the recliner explosion coincided with the space race; NASA research found that in zero gravity, the human body rests most comfortably in a reclined posture – hips and knees open beyond 120 degrees.   Astronauts (the reality TV stars of the 60’s and 7o’s) were strapped into their spacecraft in the reclining position.  If it works for them, it works for home. 

 I have to be honest, I hated those chairs.  I thought they were ugly and unsightly.  How humbling now, especially given our ERGONOMICS  focus here at ERGOLAB, to realize that La-Z-Boy and Barcalounger had it right all along.  Human Factors experts agree that the most comfortable long-term body posture is the recline position.  

Why am I thinking about this? 

Just came across this link to CORE77 article which details a research project  from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) , sponsored by Freescale Semiconductors.   The research initiative had a VERY broad scope, however, as an ergonomist, one particular category of learning jumped out at me. 

A group of students investigated the physical ergonomics within this age group, especially concerning the use of smaller devices. They discovered that a conventional small clamshell laptop is most comfortably used lying down in bed with the device on the thigh when the knees are kept up.

Once again, the RECLINE position.  Don’t know if sound Ergonomic principles in design were what drove La-Z-Boy and Barcalounger, but I am willing to admit it when I am wrong. 

http://www.core77.com/blog/featured_items/case_study_freescale_netbook_design_at_scad_by_dave_malouf_14241.asp

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I miss the old acronyms. Remember VHS, VCR?  or even older, LP?  (ok, I am actually from the cassette generation, but my parents had LPs.)  Now a new acronym has emerged on the scene…..LED.  OK OK, this really isn’t a new acronym, LED technology or light-emitting diodes have been around for over 100 years. (or so Wikipedia tells me). HOWEVER…for the average consumer, LED just hit the radar.  The hot new tech gift this holiday season…the LED television. Big, ultrathin and sexy.  Life without an LED television is impossible.  (LOL). Or so the marketing types want us all to believe.

In the world of office products and ergonomics, LED tech means an evolution in lighting fixtures and solutions for YOUR office workstation.  Weird, but this is something I CAN get excited about (and most of our clients too). LED lights use less energy, emit less heat and are LEED credit eligible (for those who are counting).   LED lighting is BUSINESS SEXY. 

What is business sexy?   Business sexy is something that makes the CFO go weak in the knees.  Business sexy is about the bottom line.  Business sexy makes everyone in the enterprise happy.

Several Ergonomic product manufacturers have new LED products to offer – we like Workrite’s Astra and Soleil task lights and their really cool (literally, it’s cool to the touch, no 2nd degree burns by moving the fixture) Verano under-mount magnetic light strip.    All have been awarded our BUSINESS SEXY stamp of approval (and from our clients too).  I think I am going to create a Business Sexy stamp for future use.

We await the arrival of Humanscale’s Element LED lamps.  The product is not available YET, but the chatter is very positive. (see link below for Wired magazine POV on Humanscale)  All we know is that Workrite has set the bar VERY HIGH….wait and see if Humanscale can dislodge the Astra, Soleil and Verano from our hearts.  

Wired Fetish: Ultimate office accessories

For more info on Workrite Astra, Soleil and Verano product details – http://www.workriteergo.com/products/lighting.asp

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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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