Principles of Ergonomics: Designing with User Comfort in Mind

The user experience is the core of the design process. Designers should put themselves in the shoe of the end consumer in order to achieve empathic design. In order to achieve success in the highly competitive market, the innovation should walk side by side with the deep understanding of the consumer interaction with both the physical and digital aspects of the products. This understanding should be achieved through the understanding of the user ergonomics and apply the principles of ergonomics in the design process.

Ergonomics refer to designing products, services, systems and processes with social interaction in mind. The principles of ergonomics ensures that the design complement the consumer ability strengths for and strives to minimize the effort and limitations while using the product rather than forcing them to adapt. Ergonomics is widely implemented in different industries effecting the creative sector. Many designers believe ergonomics is only considered in product design. However, designers in different fields such as graphic and interactive design are required to consider ergonomics in their design projects. For example, the interactive designers should consider the user experience research as an essential stage in designing mobile applications, websites, and user interfaces.

Principles of Ergonomics

In order to consider the ergonomics involved in different design projects, universal principles of ergonomics can be applied. While the principles below may not be applicable in some projects, the concepts can be adapted to both physical and digital projects.

1- Neutral Postures

The neutral posture refers to the human body aligned and balanced. The standard and balanced posture reduces the stress applied on muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones. The unbalanced posture for the human body is known as an “awkward posture”. The usage of the designed product should avoid putting the consumer in the awkward posture. For example, the product design should ensure that the consumer is not enforced to use awkward postures in order to use the product.

While this principle applies more to physical products, it can still be applied in digital designs. For example, the interactive design should consider a quick reach for information so users do not need to set for long periods of time in front of the computer of mobile screens.

ergonomics neutral posture
The different between neutral posture and awkward posture. (images source: cdc.gov)

2- Reduce Excessive Force

The design for heavy products should consider reducing the excessive force needed or used to pull, push, or carry the product. Alternative solutions should be adapted to reduce the use of force such as using wheels to these products. Also, adding handholds can reduce the force used to carry objects. This principle is viable in the physical products with little need or implementation in the digital domain.

3- Keep Things Easy to Reach

This principle is widely applied in both the physical and digital domains. The interaction with a specific product should be made easy. Consumers should reach the product easily and interact with it. For example, the control panel for dish washers should be reachable with the minimum amount of effort and time. In digital designs such as website and mobile application, users should be able to reach functions and navigation links easily through the usable implementation of the layout.

3- Work in Power or Comfort Zone

The power zone refers to the zone where interacting with objects has the least amount of effort spent, it is also known as “hand shake zone”. It is the area between mi-thigh and mid-chest height. If the product is designed to be held, the designer should consider this position as the standard.

ergonomic principles
Held items should be designed to fit with the comfort zone.

4- Reduce Excessive Motion

This principle aims to reduce the amount of motion spent while dealing with the design. The motion refers to any movement applied using the figures, wrist, or other parts of the body. One of the examples of applying this principle is the usage of screwdriver. The electric screwdriver is designed to reduce hand motion during usage.

5- Reduce Static Load

Static load refers to the position where the person stays in the same position or holds something for a long time. This load create discomfort fatigue. If the product requires the consumer to stand still for a long time such as holding a specific tool, a fixture solution needs to be applied in order to eliminate the need to hold the object.

ergonomics principles
Tools whose handles are sized and shaped to complement the hand, require less effort to use (source: cdc.gov).

6- Minimize Pressure Points

The pressure point refers to the point where the object is in contact with the consumer body during the usage of the product. For example, high chairs makes a pressure point between the user legs and table or desk. Therefore, designing the chair should allow users to modify the height and subsequently it can be used with any table height.

7- Provide Clearance

The design for products and interior should provide a space for the user to move freely and avoid dumping into any of the objects. The same concept is applied in the digital domain. Placing the functions and elements in the website design or mobile application device should allow the user to move between the function smoothly and avoid any confusion such as clicking on wrong buttons.

8- Enable Movement and Stretching

The product design should consider the user needs to move, exercise, and stretch. For example, seat design includes options to adjust the setting style. Tables that forces one to stand up or be in in one place may be modified in some places to avoid the a long setting time.

9- Reduce Excessive Vibration

Vibration has a serious impact on consumer health. Contacting vibrating tools may cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Therefore, designing products that use motors or vibrate while holding should consider this principle. For example, the motor part can be separated from the tool itself and connected to it using a cord instead. This reduces the vibration on the tool.

10- Provide Good Lighting Conditions

The overall work environment should be comfortable and allow users or designers to have good lighting, fresh air, and enough space. In offices where computer screens are installed, the design of the light systems should avoid reflections caused by the polished computer screens.

Conclusion

Ergonomics’ aim to consider the user environment and behavior while using a specific design of a product. These principles should be applied in both physical and digital products. While the above principles provide general rules to follow while designing user-friendly products, special guidelines or consideration may be applied based on the product user experience and marketing research. Below is a list of books that cover the field of ergonomics in more details:

It is not necessary that the principles above apply to all designed products. Some principles may not be applicable in some designs. For example, the design for a computer mouse may be a case to apply the “Reduce Excessive Vibration“ principle.


Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.