Section 31 Ergonomic factors

February 7th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
WINNERS = Products which seem to “flow” or fit in perfectly with the way a person works, moves etc.  Products which provide the most functions with the least amount of impact on your body.

One of my pet peeves is picking up a pair of scissors that have long or large cutting edges or capacity, but have little tiny holes for your fingers.  Invariably, as I start to use them my fingers cramp-up, hurt, or blister and I have visions of choking the engineer who designed them.

If you think about it, every day you will come across products that make you wish you could reach out and grab the designer, bring them into your particular situation and make them use their own product to get you out of the situation you are in.

Tom Peters, Author of “in Search Of Excellence” wrote an especially good piece about this very subject called “ON THE IRRITATION OF EVERYDAY THINGS”.  In the article Tom described the gyrations he had to go through to slide the seat back on his wife’s car.  The explanation would have been riotously funny if it were not such a sad commentary on the state of new product design in today’s world.

As a new product evaluator and designer, you should make every effort to be sure that the product you are planning on investing in or marketing has been designed FOR THE CUSTOMER who will use it rather than for the engineer’s ease in designing the product or the manufacturers minimization of in-house tooling.

Before finalizing any investment or marketing plans, conduct a focus group of people who will use the product and WATCH their actions and reactions while they are using the product.  Be sure to conduct the observations in the exact same environment in which the product will be used.  LISTEN to the inputs of the prospective end-users, and be humble enough to value them.

Never trust a design group, which is larger than ONE person, when they tell you they have conducted ergonomic evaluations.  DO THEM YOURSELF.  Chances are the car maker who designed and built Tom Peter’s car would have assured him, if Tom were evaluating the car, that the car was designed with the driver in mind but the truth may be that the person or persons, who designed the seat, probably designed it in an engineering department miles away from the designer who engineered the body of the vehicle.  The two design groups may not even speak to each other on a regular basis.  They surely never watched prospective customers actually use the seat, before they made thousands of them, or they would have modified the design.

Remember, end-users want a product that acts and operates in harmony with themselves and their environment.  They may have no interest at all in a product that you designed in the protected confines of your engineering department and which feels or functions like YOU think they SHOULD want.

Tom Peter’s car seat would probably never have left the factory with that idiotic design had someone taken the time to watch both short and tall prospective customers enter and exit the vehicle.

I have helped many innovators redesign their products to match what the customers really wanted, after the product had been designed the way the engineer thought they would want it.  One particularly silly example was a big “ham-handed” engineer who designed a very clever hand tool, for use in electronic assembly.  He designed the tool to fit his hand, had the injection mold tooling made, at great expense, and then realized after the fact that most of the people who would be using the tool were Asian ladies who had much smaller hands, and they could not operate the tool at all.  He had to quickly modify the tool, at great expense again, in order to make it useable.

The time to think about ergonomics is in the prototype development stage.  The innovator should have as many prospective customers as possible, of all different shapes, sizes, mental capacities, education levels, and cultures use the product before going to “hard” tooling for the production run.



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