"Firstly, this is not about adjusting your chair so that you're not slumped over the screen when working on a Flash prototype (although office ergonomics is a very important subject). Rather, the topic of discussion is the increasing value of ergonomics knowledge to the interaction designer. Ergonomics is necessary for 3-dimensional, tangible product design where issues of physical fit and comfort are critical. But for interaction designers in the 2-dimensional world of the display screen, ergonomics has largely been...irrelevant. For example in most cases, interfaces are designed for existing, defined hardware that are out of the control of the interaction designer. But things are changing...
The continuing convergence of digital interfaces with physical products is putting interaction designers in a position where knowledge of anthropometrics, kinesthetics, and other non-cognitive human capabilities is valuable for creating effective design solutions.
There are several trends contributing to this, including:
1. The rapid proliferation of touch screen and other gestural interfaces which combine "direct" physical control with digital interface design. If you want to design for a finger, you have to know how a finger works.
2. The growth of ubiquitous computing leading to an increased range of scale and form factor in devices that contain interfaces, from traditional computers and laptops, to kiosks, tablets, phones, interactive video walls, electronic ink and consumer appliances (to name a few). As a result, people are interacting with interfaces in range of positions and contexts that go beyond simply standing or sitting in front of a screen. So beyond fingertips, knowing how people can reasonably user their bodies to hold, view, reach and interact is valuable.
3. Computing power and bandwidth across such devices now supports more complex, involved tasks such as data entry, long duration reading and gaming, all of which can lead to risks for repetitive motion injuries, or at least discomfort. Having a knowledge of the types of interactions that can cause such injuries, and how to design around them, is essential.
4. An ever increasingly diverse range of end-users are gaining access to interactive devices, across age, and physical characteristics. For example, the One Laptop Per Child campaign has produced a global, kid-sized laptop. In home health care, a market of predominately elderly users, more devices contain embedded interfaces. And ADA and similar legislation requires that devices are accessible to users with a range of disabilities. In other words, you need to know your user, for it is not you - a given in interface design, a necessity in ergonomic design.
5. Last, but not least - interest. Several of the factors described above are driving many interaction designers to explore and study the world of physical product design. For example, the IIT Institute of Design is hosting a "thinkering" workshop specifically to provide "an opportunity for interaction designers to get their hands dirty with electronics, soldering, and wiring, and learn how to interface hardware artifacts with virtual interactions." Just as it is important to understand the electro-mechanics of hardware, it is essential to understand the relevant mechanical attributes for the users of such hardware.
What all of these trends have in common is a growing need to accommodate human physical characteristics and constraints in the design of digital interfaces. For the most part, this skill set is not part of the experience of interaction designers. Consequently, I'm posting this first in a series of explorations on the topic of Ergonomics for Interaction Designers, or E *IxD for short." (Continued via DESIGNING *for humans) [Usability Resources]