The Hidden Sides of Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a scientific discipline concerned with interactions among users and products or systems. This is why it’s also called Human-Engineering or Human-Factors. In a product design process, ergonomics deals with designing the most efficient and fluent solutions for user/product interactions. The term “ergonomics” is most familiar with the aspects of product/human-body fit. Manufacturers of products with significant interaction with the human body, such as shoes, working tools, and computer keyboards, understand the need and the value of ergonomics; but what about products with no product/human-body interaction? Do they have to be ergonomically designed?  The answer is – yes. Let’s see why.

There are three different types of ergonomics – physiological, cognitive, and emotional. They all deal with product/user fit, each in a different aspect of the user’s experience.

Physiological Ergonomics
Physiological Ergonomics is the “original” ergonomics, and often considered (mistakenly) as the only kind. It’s concerned with product/body fit, and so it is responsible for designing products that best fit the user’s body in terms of human anatomy, body’s actions, and anthropometrics.

Physiological-Ergonomics is mostly used for products with strong integrations with the user’s body such as chairs, medical devices, and working environments.

Cognitive Ergonomics
Cognitive Ergonomics is concerned with product/intellect fit. It’s responsible for designing products that users can easily comprehend, and so it deals with user’s mental processes – perception, learning, memory, reasoning, and more.

It’s mostly used for complex products with a variety of usage and operation options such as computers, professional devices, and machinery.

Emotional Ergonomics
Emotional Ergonomics is concerned with product/emotions fit. It’s responsible for designing products that users can emotionally connect to, and so it deals with the user’s emotional perceptions and reactions.

It’s mostly used for products with high emotional involvement, the kind of products that represent one’s personality and taste such as mobile phones, kitchen appliances, cars, and furniture.

Product design and ergonomics goes hand in hand. Every meaningful product (in terms of users’ engagement and usage) has to be ergonomically designed to fit its users in the best possible ways. It depends on the product and its category which of the three ergonomics types should be considered. At the beginning of a product design project, the product design manager should ask herself how important is the product/user fit in terms of the user’s body, brain, and heart – the answer will tell which kind of ergonomics should be used.