Although not as fun as Samsung's current advertising campaign, Apple's latest television spots are notable for their focus on ergonomics. While Apple has always been know for marketing their products based on simplicity, ease of use and aesthetics, their newest TV campaign puts a direct emphasis on the physical ergonomics of their products. For example the "Thumb" commercial compares the range of thumb reach to the screen layout of the iPhone 5:
Another one of their ads, "Ears" touches on the anthropometrics of the outer ear (although certainly not using those technical terms). Here's the long-form version, not typically seen on TV, with Jony Ive discussing the 3D scanning of ears to determine best fit:
Why is Apple marketing a new emphasis on physical ergonomics? Perhaps with the growing intersection of digital interaction and physical design, an area that Apple has pioneered via gestural interactions of the iPhone and iPad, consumers are looking beyond the flat-world of the digital display to the more holistic three-dimensional aspects of the user experience.
As an ergonomist it's interesting to see how potential ergonomic benefits are defined and communicated to the consumer public. The thumb advertisment is intentionally simplistic and non-technical, almost poetic. The long-form ears video is certainly more interesting and explanatory, and Jony Ive admits, albeit subtley, the challenges in designing a one-size-fits-all product:
"Making one headphone to fit everybody's ears would be like trying to make one pair of shoes to fit everbodys feet - I mean it's impossible. But that's exactly what we've tried to do with the new EarPods." (emphasis added)
It's important to note that there's a difference between marketing ergonomics and designing ergonomics (often a huge difference). For instance their are some concerns about the just announced iPad Mini, including the fesability of one-handed grasping (see A Mini Tablet for a Maxi Hand).
It will be interesting to see whether Apple continues this emphasis in its marketing and whether competitors start doing likewise.
Update Dec 1 - I learned of Dustin Curtis' examination of thumb reach for the 3.5" vs 4" versions of the iPhone. Although seemingly based on his own thumb dimensions, Curtis extrapolates out some interesting insights on the ergonomics of the iPhone 5:
"Four inches is only now barely acceptable on iPhone 5 because:
- iPhone 5’s huge reduction in weight makes it easier to hold while contorting your hand to touch the hard-to-reach areas of the screen.
- The screen’s width remains narrow and only grows vertically, meaning it’s still easy to reach the entire width of the device;
- The device is 20% thinner, which allows your hand to wrap around more fully and to gain slightly more reach; and
- iOS’s tab bars are anchored to the bottom of the screen, where your thumb more naturally rests, so it remains easy to change app sections (contrast this with Android’s tab bars, which are usually located at the top of the screen, and sometimes out of reach)."
Update Sept 27 - You can now directly access the article on Design Bureau's web site.
People often ask for my input on everyday design and ergonomics questions - I was once even contacted by an automobile dealer who was concerned about a customer's request to swap the brake and accelerator pedals (I wisely chose to stay out of that).
Starting this fall, I will have a recurring Q&A column called Bureau of Ergonomics. This is premiering in the just released Sept/Oct issue (#13) of Design Bureau magazine For those unfamiliar with Design Bureau, see my review from earlier this year.
Like the magazine itself, my column will cover questions from a variey of areas including packaging, travel, shopping and interfaces. If you'd like to submit questions for future issues, please email me.
I encourage you to check out the Design Bureau web site and consider subscribing to the print or iPad version. As of this writing you can get a free preview of the full Sept/Oct issue that includes my first column.
Last month I collaborated with Charles Mauro on a presentation of leading user experience research methods as part of the New York Technology Council's series on User Experience Design.
We presented an overview of research methods in terms of - the business problems they address, the data generated, relative costs, statistical validity, etc. I discussed qualitative methods focused on product design including ethnographic research, remote ethnography and observational ergonomics; Mauro covered quantitative web research methods including large-sample online behavior testing and eye tracking. We provided professional tips on how to be more efficient and what to look out for in terms of efficiency and data quality.
After the intro, my section starts around 11:30 and Mauro resumes with his review of methods aorund 42:00.
You can also access a subset of my slides via SlideShare.
It's not secret that I'm a huge fan of William Lidwell's Universal Principles of Design (which I reviewed in 2006) and the subsequent Deconstructing Product Design (which I contributed to and reviewed in 2009). So I was eager to contribute to Bella Martin's and Bruce Hannington's research focused book, also published by Rockport.
The full title of the just-published book is Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions, but we can just call it UMD for short.
As with Lidwell's books, UMD is a highly-organized and visual. The book covers a variety of methods including card sorting, eye tracking, design ehtnography and Kano analysis. Less of a text book than a guide, it would be useful as an introduction for those learning about reaserch methods for the first time, and for professionals as a tool with useful examples and references.
I contributed to the Ergonomic Analysis section, much of which draws on methodologies I have presented on this blog. The section also shows images from the crimping tool analysis that we conducted at Bresslergroup.
Universal Methods of Design is available from Amazon.com
An interesting case study that I authored on Bresslergroup's ergonomic redesign of a hand tool - the The Thomas & Betts Sta-Kon® ERG-4001 (Pressmaster-K67). It's a crimper used by electricians and other to crimp wires, a manual task that is physically demanding and repetitive.
The case study provides a background into the ergonomic issues addressed, and the Strength/Reach/Posture/Clearance framework that we used to structure our analysis and redesign efforts. The resulting tool had significant, measurable improvements in ergonomics, most notably the diminished manual force curve compared to competitor products (charted above).
As the number and variety of gestural interface applications has exploded, design researchers have been focusing more on the physical aspects of human-artifact interaction. The potential benefits of gestural interfaces - simplicity, ease of learning, memorability - are valuable to end-users, but also provide an emerging opportunity and challenges for the researchers who study them (see Dan Saffer's presentation on researching interactive gestures).
Typically design research documentation is a cumbersome process of rapid note-taking and rigorous reviews of video recordings. Over the years I have identified and discussed tools and technologies that can improve the efficiency of design research data collection. And I see the next wave of user research tools not only focusing on physical interaction, but actually enabling the design researchers to document behavioral observations through their own physical interactions.
Case in point - at Bresslergroup we have been trialling the Nintendo Wiimote controller (pictured above) in conjunction with Techsmith's Morae software as a wireless data tagging system. Wireless data tagging is an activity that allows one or more researchers to mark key observations, synchronized in real-time. In fact, wireless tagging was a key element of our FieldCREW concept research tablet (concept tagging device pictured below).
As part of our proof-of-concept for FieldCREW, we have configured the various buttons and controllers on the Wiimote to correspond to task-specific behaviors. For example, the directional controller can correspond to the direction of an observed person's physical motions, while the other buttons can be mapped to specific tasks or activities. As a result, a skilled "tagger" can unobtrusively document events in real-time with a single-hand and without interrupting their line of sight to the activity (versus having to look down to write notes). All of the tagged events become markers corresponding to a synchronized video-recording in Morae.
This is more than a gain of efficiency or convenience. It is an enhanced means to observe and record physical behaviors, as it changes the role of the observer from a somewhat passive information gatherer to an active, real-time participant, even giving game-like qualities to the research tasks (e.g. when the user moves left, I push left).
I'll be discussing and demonstrating this, as well as other methods for physically documenting physical behaviors at the upcoming Design Research Conference.
On Tuesday 8 December at 6pm, I will be speaking at the MFA Interaction Design program of the School of Visual Arts in New York. The presentation - Ergonomics for Interaction Designers - is drawn from a series of postings I wrote earlier this year and the presentation I gave at the Industrial Designers Society of America conference in September. I will also be discussing some new projects and tools, including the tactile pressure sensing glove.
Here's the summary description:
The convergence of digital user interfaces with physical products (e.g., touch screens, gestural interfaces) puts interaction designers in a position where knowledge of ergonomics is valuable, if not essential, for creating effective solutions.
This lecture is an introduction to anthropometric design and research methods, including: explanations of fundamental ergonomic design principles and myths, case studies at the intersection of product and user interface design, and actionable takeaways to apply immediately. The content is geared specifically to interaction designers, relating understood digital design principles and terminology to parallels in physical design.
Here at Bresslergroup we have recently started using a force-sensing "glove" for ergonomic research and analysis. We use the FingerTPS ("tactile pressure sensing") system from Pressure Profile Systems. Both the hardware and software are very easy to set-up and use; and we've been applying it to a range of projects including consumer, industrial and medical product design.
For example, we can measure the force applied over time for particular fingers when operating various controls on products (e.g. touchscreen versus five-way controller). Besides benchmarking product controls, we can evaluate the relative strengths of different types of users (e.g. children, adults, disabled users) to advise on appropriate control design.
See the video below from PPS that explains how the system works:
I don't typically advocate products in this blog, but I have very high praise for Ergon's bike grips. A few weeks ago I started to bike commute to work several days a week (about 9 miles, on and off-road paths). Being familiar with Ergon's products through their exposure in design awards, I purchased the GC2 grips as my first aftermarket product.
From my personal experience, the grips are a clear improvement over traditional cylndrical ones in that they provide significantly more surface area for the hand to rest on, particularly the lower palm. Ergon's site provides some nice schematic Flash animation of the ergonomic advantages, from both angular deviation and surface contact perspectives. I was also satisfied with the smooth material finished that doesn't leave depressions on your skin from long duration rides. So real-world approval from a Certified Professional Ergonomist (and cyclist).
Ergon also designed an interesting backpack that uses a ball joint to separate the backpack straps from the backpack body. This allows the user to move more freely without the backpack slipping (see ergonomic explanation here).
In a previous post I discussed the (disappearing) distinction between designing interfaces that primarily support physical interaction, and those that support cognitive interaction. But this is not a black and white differentiation, so I thought it would be useful to describe a continuum of physical interaction in user interfaces.
Note that I am focusing on willfully or intentionally controlled interfaces. There are examples, arguably, of involuntary interfaces - for instance, an autopilot function that activates if a pilot becomes disabled - but I'll table those interesting cases for a later discussion.
Continuum of Physical Interfaces
A continuum of physical interaction would range at one end from non-movement to that which requires significant, complex body movement. At the first extreme we could include theoretical telepathic control, where no visible physical interaction is evident. As we move away from that end of the spectrum we have existing and emerging neuroergonomic interfaces that rely on measurement of electrical potentials, cerebral blood flow, and MRI imagery other as triggers for action.
The next step towards physical interaction are devices that measure or track relatively small motor movements and translate them into interface actions. For example, Emotiv System's forthcoming Epoc device can translate facial muscle movement into expressions for online avatars. Eye tracking systems, already commonplace in supporting the physically disabled, track eye movements in place of mouse/keyboard controllers.
From here we move to relatively simple, ubiquitous traditional physical interaction controllers - buttons, keyboards, knobs, switches, levers - the stuff of mechanical and electro-mechanical devices that designers have been working with for years. These controllers are typically binary (on/off), or at least incremental (having multiple, discrete states). Most existing touch screen interfaces, such as bank ATMs, would fall under this category.
We then go from discrete, to continuous controllers, enabling multiple actions and greater flexibility. The computer mouse was a breakthrough for human-computer interaction in this context as it supports various types of interaction and interfacing from a single control device. In fact, while keys and buttons are typically designed with a specific function in mind, the mouse provided the opportunity for new user interfaces to be created for defining its functions. Gestural interfaces, from multi-touch screen to the Wii are also examples of this flexible, "open" physical interaction category. These are the "new "interaction devices that are opening up new possibilities for interaction designers.
We might imagine a Minority Report based interface as the ultimate extreme at the far end of the physical interaction spectrum, but as pictured in the video above, it is only limited to gestural hand movements. What about more complex bodily interactions combining other limbs, postural movement and line-of-sight? This is still largely unexplored territory might be best understood by observing how we use our bodies in the most dynamic and complex ways. Musicians, athletes and dancers may be a more valuable source for developing future physical interaction ideas than science fiction.
A Metric for Physical Interface Complexity
Note that the continuum I described above, while not by any means arbitrary, was not based on a well-defined metric that quantified greater or less physical complexity. If we were to do so, degrees of freedom would be an appropriate place to start. A degree of freedom can be defined as any independent direction in which movement is possible. A human finger has four degrees of freedom, made up of the extension/flexion of the three joints, as well as side-to-side movement. Combining the individual degrees of freedom of the four fingers, thumb and wrist gives the hand 26 degrees of freedom.
Hypothetically, we could apply this to the entire human body to specify the maximum level of complexity for any single physical interaction, or sequence of interactions. The total degrees of freedom for a fully functioning human is 1380. In theory, we could go back to any physical interaction and quantify the (minimum) amount of movement required to come up with relative complexity measures. But it actually gets more challenging as complexity is more than just the sum of the degrees of freedom, and would depend on the particular combination of movements, etc. In other words, it's an interesting idea, but requires a lot more thought to pursue practically.
Mapping Physical Interaction Inputs to Outputs
Another important consideration is the relationship between physical inputs and the associated outputs in a user interface system. Current discussion of gestural interfaces is primarily focused on using physical interaction to control virtual objects - a way to make the digital world more tangible. But physical interaction interfaces can also be used to control physical systems, and not just in the literal sense.
Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci surgical systemsrepresent the leading edge of commercialized physical interaction devices. As depicted in the video, the systems "translate and filter" a surgeon's precision hand motions into physical motions of surgical robot manipulators. This requires a two-way physical interaction where the user not only provides physical output, but receives haptic input such as resistance to force. So it's actually a physical-to virtual-to physical loop.
A Starting Point for Defining Physical Interactions in User Interfaces
While this is just a preliminary discussion, there are threads towards developing a taxonomy of physical interaction types:
There is the complexity of the physical movement, characterized by the number and type of degrees of freedom involved.
We are on the cusp of a significant trend in product design and design methodology, where the longstanding divide between physical and cognitive modes of interaction will disappear. What do I mean by this?
Consider, in general terms the distinction between primarily physical human-artifact interactions, and those that are primarily cognitive in nature.
Physical artifacts are those whose primary design intent is the mechanical transportation or transformation of matter. Think automobiles, appliances, tools, basically the main focus of industrial design in the last century. Such products are ideally designed around human anthropometric and ergonomic principles to maximize efficiency, effectiveness and safety. Often these artifacts require significant experience to develop proficiency or “muscle memory”, and those who achieve a high level of skill may be considered craftsmen, or even athletes.
Compare this to cognitive artifacts that essentially store and transmit information – books, radios, telephones, wristwatches, personal computers and so on. While these artifacts all intrinsically require physical interaction, it is typically trivial in its nature - it requires relatively limited manual dexterity to turn a page, click a mouse, press a button. The majority of design focus is on the user interface and its visual display of information – the “heavy lifting” with these artifacts takes place in the head of the user, so design for the mind, not the body, takes precedence.
So we have largely been designing two, co-existing, but separate types of products: those that utilize the complex mechanics of the body to transform matter, and those that accommodate capabilities of the mind for processing information. Products that overlap these two worlds, that is, which take advantage of complex physical interactions to drive information processing, are few and far between. The abacus the telegraph, and perhaps texting, comes to mind. Musical instruments play an interesting role in this context where technical sophisticated body control is applied to the creation of sound, but even this is for artistic or entertainment purposes, rather than concerning the analysis of information in the scientific or business sense.
But now, we are starting to see the emergence of products that hint at using the mechanics of the body to interact with complex information. For example Jeff Han’s multi-touch, interactive data wall, and virtual reality simulations that allow scientists to “feel” the forces between molecules. But even these interfaces are only scratching the surface of what is possible from a physical interaction point-of-view. Getting to this point has taken a long time because it is challenging to track and quantify the multiple degrees of freedom of movement of the body. But it is also the result of our divided design processes, where physical interactions and cognitive interactions have traditionally been designed by different people with different expertise, at different times.
Moreover, such divided design processes are themselves the result of 20th century psychology that treats humans as information processing machines. As a consequence we think of human activity as comprised of discrete, sequential steps of thinking and then acting – I see something, then I reach for it. In other words, a built-in division between cognitive interaction and physical interaction. As a result it’s easy to see why we divide the world the way we do.
But there are alternative perspectives on human behavior, in particular the ecological psychologyy of J.J. Gibson. Gibson coined the term “affordances” which is (mis) used and abused by interaction designers today. But affordances, the relationships between people (or other organisms) and artifacts, are just a part of a larger “perception-action” framework. In this view, perceiving or sensing information is a physical behavior itself, not just a means to drive a subsequent physical action. Likewise, physical behavior drives perception – the two are connected, not divided, resulting in a perception-action loop.
The implications of this for product design are subtle, but important. Taking into account the physical interactions someone takes to acquire information is a useful for understanding and determining what and how to display information. For example, rather than designing products where all information is accessed from a single point, information may be distributed across locations, where the location itself is informative above and beyond the content. We see this emerging with augmented reality applications, where the user’s particular activity, such as walking to a particular location in a city, provides location-specific information. The format and content may be driven by variables such as the person’s posture and gait (e.g. in a hurry or browsing), direction of approach, and of course their physical characteristics such as eye height and reach.
To get to the point where we can design systems to take advantage of complex physical interactions will require an taking a new look at how the fields of kinesthetics, anthropometrics and optical flow , relate to interface design. These fields will be as important to designers as information architecture and form giving are today.
As a starting point, I've been exploring the role of ergonomics in contemporary interface design, to better relate the divided fields of physical and cognitive product design.
While I've never had any formal education on typography (or perhaps, because of that absence), I've always had a great amount of respect and admiration for the discipline. And just as a skilled driver can win a race without understanding the physics of internal combustion engines, the vast majority of us can write effectively without comprehending the physical details of the particular letters we are assembling.
But my interest in typography has recently grown due to my exposure to two leading practitioners. Michael Beirut and Oded Ezer are very different kinds of designers. Beirut, who I enjoyed seeing lecture a few weeks ago at a Philadelphia AIGA event, is an expert at applying typography to design projects. His encyclopedic knowledge of type history can be seen in this video from Atlantic Magazine:
On the other hand, Oded Ezer is a true typographer who creates letter forms. An Israeli, he works primarily in Hebrew type, both in applied and experimental forms. I am currently reading Ezer's just-published The Typographer's Guide to the Galaxy, a visual review of Ezer's body of work ranging from relatively simple and direct treatments (like the image at the top of this post), to unconventional 3D treatments of letters and "Typospermatoids" (pictured below) - a hypothetical half sperm/half letter, "whose typographic information has been implanted into their DNA." For more information, see Ezer's web site.
This emphasis and exposure to typography has caused me to re-evaluate my own perspective on the field. For the usability or human factors practitioner, typography is generally considered in very functional terms. Whether it's road signs on a highway, warning labels on medication or data captions in a software application, the focus is on the appropriate visual clarity, legibility and structural hierarchy.
But Ezer's unconventional, even anthropomorphic treatment of typography has me thinking of letters as actors with characteristics, rather than inert symbols. More specifically, I realized that some of the basic principles of ergonomics could be mapped to typographical elements, and that typography and anthropometry (the study of human body measurements) are curiously related, at least metaphorically.
The fundamental principle of anthropometrics is that although people need to conduct the same types of behaviors and tasks, they vary greatly in their physical characteristics. The same is true for different type faces - while they vary greatly in their physical characteristics and appearance, each must represent and allow the assembly of the same sets of characters into words. That is, any font (English font, more specifically), is a variation on representing the 26 letters of the alphabet, etc.
But a more striking similarity between ergonomics and typography arises when one considers the rules that govern fit. In my series on Ergonomics for Interaction Designers (part 3), I discuss the four key factors - reach, clearance, posture and strength. These four inputs can be applied to assess the ergonomic fit of any person in any context. But they are also metaphorically comparable for assessing the characteristics of a type:
As a basic example, we can visually compare Arial Black with an italicized version of Times New Roman. While both examples are at the same type size (13 pt), Arial Black clearly has greater reach and strength, while Times New Roman has a slanted posture.
Perhaps an interesting mental exercise, but anything more to it? I've just begun to examine this interrelationship, but I think there may be inspiration here for typographers. Gaining an understanding of human physical characteristics, and how they vary, could influence the design and application of typography, not for functional purposes as much as creative and exploratory endeavors. Conversely, my interest in typography may lead to new ideas for addressing ergonomic issues - but if not, I will have gained a better understanding of an intriguing, ubiquitous design niche.`
The March issue of Metropolis is focused on products, with the theme of Good Design. And it contains several articles with a specific focus on ergonomics. Niels Diffrient (illustrated above) presents what might be read as a self-contradicting design process, in The Real Driver. On the one hand he posits a master-of-the-universe expertise as a best practice over contextual research:
On the other hand, the result of this approach is a chair that was "ten years in the making—I realized that people needed more comfort with less complication. By that, I mean fewer buttons, levers—everything." I recognize that I'm oversimplifying, but one wonders if the need for a less complex chair could have been identified with a few weeks of research rather than ten years of tinkering (although maybe getting it simple was all in the tinkering).
In the same issue Don Norman's Selective Memories, gives perspective on the evolution of design focus:
"If the last century was about rationality and reason (or attempted to be), let’s hope this one ushers in a deeper appreciation of human behavior. Ideally, logic and reason would remain important, but cognition (how we understand things) and emotion (how we value them) should play equally important roles."
Perhaps the fact that Niels and Norman - both well into their golden years - were the representation for ergonomics issues, speaks to the continued perception of human factors as the domain for gurus, while design is the realm of young rock stars? But the content is is balanced by A Call to Arms, examining high-tech prosthetics for returning soldiers - "the ultimate ergonomic challenge."
Last, but not least, check out Ben Katchor's The Nozzle, a pseudo-nostalgic comic strip perspective on the role of customer research in design and marketing.
This is the third and final part of this introductory "mini-series". Part 1 introduced the value of ergonomics to interaction designers, and Part 2 discussed some of the challenges and methods of anthropometric design for a broad range of users. Now I am going to focus on how to identify ergonomic issues in observational and lab testing contexts.
Qualitative Observations Issues in Field Research
While interaction designers will typically lack special training in ergonomic assessment methods, most will have some degree of familiarity, if not significant experience with user-centered methods including contextual observation (aka ethnographic field research) and usability testing. All of these methods share objective observation as a common data gathering method, and really only vary in the particular variables or characteristics that are the subject of study. And while anthropometric data is intrinsically quantitative, qualitative observational research can be applied to identify ergonomic issues. With these factors in mind, I've developed a basic set of ergonomic observational criteria to use as guidelines when evaluating design fit. The guidelines are inspired by Stephen Pheasant's cardinal rules of anthropometrics, extended to qualitative field research.
Pheasant advised focusing on Reach, Clearance, Posture and Strength. I'll explain how these can be applied to a consumer electronics device, the InterAction Labs SQWEEZE Game Controller, pictured above. The SQWEEZE is an accessory to the Nintendo Wii - inserting a Wii controller into the SQWEEZE unit allows the user to apply push/pull forces for gaming - think of drawing a bow string to shoot an arrow, for example. While the SQWEEZE was well designed by ergonomics standards, it makes for a good example for explaining the four anthropometric characteristics:
I've just scratched the surface of these four key ergonomic factors, but I want to re-enforce a couple of critical issues to keep in mind. First, when we talk about an particular factor, it's important to consider it at multiple levels of scale. In the case of posture, we might look broadly at how someone approaches a kiosk from an overall body perspective, but then focus more narrowly on the deviation of the hands and fingers. Second, these factors are not independent of each other - in fact they are highly co-influential. For example, if there is limited visual access, then a user may change his or her body and limb postures to accommodate improved field-of-view, but in doing so, increase the extent of reach and reduce the effective transfer strength.
Last, but not least, I add a fifth factor which goes beyond the physical, to the perceptual and cognitive: Feedback. Feedback refers to the user's ability to receive input on the impact of their actions on the interface or system. For the SQWEEZE this can mean the tactile, visual and even audible mechanical feedback that corresponds with using the device. For a touch screen kiosk, there is the perceived resistance of the touch service, and the feedback from the software responses.
Putting all this together, a person conducting observational research can use these five factors as a checklist for identifying potential ergonomic problems in real-time, or post-hoc (e.g. with video review).
As a mnemonic aid, putting Feedback together with the other four ergonomic factors (Reach, Clearance, Posture and Strength), gives us FRCPS, or FoRCePS. This was actually created as a mental cue during surgical observations, thus the clinical abbreviations. I'm certainly open to more approachable re-combinations of the letters.
Measured vs Perceived Fit
In more formal assessment situations, such as usability testing, there are a number of quantitative methods for measuring fit and identifying ergonomic problems or risks. But what seems well-designed on paper doesn't always result in well-received or usable. I've observed numerous situations where the "technical" ergonomic requirements of a design would suggest a good fit, but in reality, the majority of users preferred an alternative. There are various reasons for this ranging from individual differences, to preference for the familiar, to the influence of aesthetic design. It's not the reason for these outcomes that matters so much as the need to capture this input. In other words, it's just as important to measure subjective or perceived fit and comfort, as it is to measure anthropometric fidelity.
Recently, a number of surveys and guidelines have become available for measuring perceived comfort (I realized perceived comfort is redundant, but I'm including it for clarity). For example, Kuijt-Evers, Vink & De Looze present a basic survey for hand tool comfort that covers factors from ease of use, to performance to....blisters. In practice, it's helpful to use a vetted survey like this as a starting point, and then add and subtract questions based on the particular needs of your product, users and tasks, paying attention to the FoRCePS issues described above. As with any user-research study, piloting and iterating the usability testing approach is as important as iterating the design itself.
Part 3 Takeaways
Hopefully, these guidelines can serve as a starting point for thinking about and integrating ergonomics into your design process. They can be readily included into existing design research and usability testing protocols There may be an intimidation factor, as there is a tremendous amount of technical knowledge in the ergonomics field (even a professional certification), but these qualitative methods can give you a high-level head start. Remember, good design is as much as about identifying problems as solving them.
Part 1 of E *IxD set up the conceptual background on why ergonomics is a valuable knowledge area for interaction designers and discussed some of the basics of anthropometrics (designing for fit). We were looking at Eye Height as a critical attribute for positioning the height of a kiosk display, so that a broad range of users could comfortably view the screen. But having the display at an appropriate height for visibility is just addressing one aspect of interaction - the user also needs to control the interface - in this case via a touch screen.
Designing for Multiple Anthropometric Dimensions
There are several body measurements that could be relevant for reaching a touch screen, but a practical one would be Forward Grip Reach distance - roughly the distance from the shoulder axis to the palm of the hand. With those two metrics in mind - eye height and forward grip reach - you could picture any user as the function of two perpendicular lines - a vertical line, representing the individual's eye height, and a horizontal line representing arm reach. This is illustrated above for a range of three different users - note that the wheelchair user has a sitting eye height compared with the two standing users.
While it might seem relatively straightforward as to how to situate the kiosk- place the screen at a distance and height that accommodates the greatest range of users - the story gets more complicated, because, well people are complicated. Not just complicated in a psychological sense, but in an anthropometrical sense as well. The factor that adds complexity is the lack of correlation among anthropometric measurements within people. What do I mean by that? Let's take a step back and think in interaction design terms.
In interface design, one is typically working within the constraints of a display. For example, a common resolution for web browsers is 1024 pixels x 768 pixels. Some older displays might be set at 800x600. So while the specific vertical and horizontal dimensions change, the relationship between height and width, or aspect ratio, remains constant at approximate;y 1.3 in both cases. So if you're taking a design originally intended for 1024x768 and then need to scale it down to 800x600, it will need to be reduced proportionally.
Ergonomic design would be much easier if people had consistent "aspect ratios", but our body measurements are not predictably proportional or strongly correlated. Meaning the that all of the the tallest people in one dimension (such as eye height) do not always have the longest measurement for all other dimensions (for example, forward grip reach). An extreme example, swimmer Michael Phelps has a reach that is longer than the majority of people of the same height. What this means is that for practical purposes, each anthropometric variable could be considered independent of others. (Note that the level of correlation among different metrics can vary - for example, different attributes of the hand are closely correlated to each other, but measurements of different limbs are weakly associated.) So when we are setting an eye height that accommodates the lower 5% to upper 95% of that metric, and then a forward grip reachthat accommodates the lower 5% to upper 95% for that particular metric, we are actually talking about two different groups of people. Only a subset of people who fall within the eye height range will also fall within the reach range, albeit a large subset, but below the 90% of the population we are striving to include.
Another way of understanding this is described in the Herman Miller monograph on The Anthropometrics of Fit. The design focus in this case is fitting people to a chair rather than a touch screen kiosk, but the concept is the same. In the illustration above the back row represents all of the people who were the original intended audience for fitting a chair. Each row in front of that shows how a small percentage of people are excluded with each anthropometric variable (seat height, seat depth, etc.). The front row shows the overlap of all four variables such that "almost one-third of our sample [in blue] had at least one dimension out of four that was either smaller that the 5th percentile female or larger than the 95th percentile male."
There are some analytical methods for more effectively addressing these issues mathematically, but that's beyond the scope of discussion (for those interested, see Guidelines for Using Anthropometric Data in Product Design) . In practical terms there are three solution approaches: design multiple sizes, adjustability and satisficing.
Multiple sizes, as it implies, creates a range of models, where each is targeted at a specific subset of the user population. The most extreme example of this (aside from bespoke, individualized designs) comes from clothing and footwear, where there are literally dozens of sizes and variations to enable a relatively close fit for the vast majority of the population. For products such as furniture, this may be limited to three or four sizes, better known as small, medium and large. In fact, this was Herman Miller's solution to the chair fit problem - creating three different sizes allowed for fit of 95% of the population between the smallest 1st percent and highest 99 percent - a greater range then they had originally intended. During the design of the airport kiosk that we discussed in part 1, one of the early proposed solutions was to create a two-sided kiosk with a "low" and "high" screen positions that could comfortably suit a wide range of users.
Adjustability is really a special case of multiple sizes where the user (or an expert) modifies the fit at installation or during use. Most of us are familiar with adjusting the driver's seat in a car. These seats are not infinitely adjustable, but typically have three or more control points that can lead to a very wide range of positions, within the available space constraints. The downsides of adjustability are cost, reliability, and the extra work placed on the user to adjust the fit. Note, that many users may not always set the best fit for themselves.
Satisficing, is coming up with a single solution that fits the broadest range of users. In practice this tends to skew towards the smaller or shorter end of users because, larger users can always bend (although at 6' 4" I can say that's not always comfortable) and smaller users may have physical limitations due to age or disability that take priority (legal and otherwise). Most designs for public spaces will take this approach, as in elevators, water fountains and ATMs. For the kiosk, the best single solution is pictured below at a fixed height and distance that was manageable for a broad range of users:
Prototyping for Fit
Whether designing a single solution or multiple sizes, it is important to to follow a user-centered design process. There may be room in interface design for "genius-centered design", but there's no substitute for real-world measurement of physical fit. As in interaction design, prototyping can take many forms, depending on your goals and need for fidelity at each stage of the design process. For example, if the initial goal was simply to conduct a real-world test of key dimensions, then a simple sticker on a wall could serve as a "prototype" for display position. For more detailed issues, such as task-specific grips on a tool handle, foam mock-ups can be created and evaluated.
A typical UCD process for ergonomic fit would follow these steps, presented in an abbreviated form here:
In part 3 I'll get into specifics around actually measuring the "usability of fit", that is, the quantitative and qualitative measures to assess whether a design actually fits a range of users.
Part 2 Takeaways:
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:
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.
Anthropometrics: The Building Blocks of Ergonomic Design
In any field of design there are those elements that are defined and unchangeable, and those that are malleable It is the latter in which designers specialize. For example, in interaction design, the fixed elements might include a specified screen resolution, development language and minimum type size. As you might guess, in physical product design, there are many constraints, but human physical characteristics are the most fundamental. Therefore, the most fundamental design question is, how do I design for the range of human physical constraints? For this, we turn to anthropometrics the measure of human body size and proportions.
Let's focus on one simple anthropometric variable - height. Actually, even height is not that straightforward as there are many types of height: stature (what we mean when we say height), eye height (distance from the ground to the eyes - important for display positioning), shoulder height, fingertip height (standing, with arms relaxed), and sitting elbow height, to name a few.
Suppose we are designing an interactive touch screen kiosk that will be used in an international airport terminal (like the one pictured below, via Core77). It is expected that the kiosk users will include travelers from around the world, male and female, from kids through elderly adults. While this may sound like the worst case scenario for physical design (and it is), it's also very typical. In this case we are going to focus initially on eye height because we want to set the display so that it can be viewed most easily without looking up or bending down too much. (Note that line of sight is optimally about 10 degrees below the horizontal plane.)
If we refer to anthropometric data tables, like those found in Stephen Pheasant's Bodyspace, we find quite a range in eye height, varying by nationality, age and sex. For example an average, 50th percentile Dutch man has an eye height of 1670mm, while an average, 50th percentile eight year old British girl has an eye height of 1165mm. That's over a 500mm difference, and those aren't even the most disparate populations! So how do we accommodate the diversity of physical characteristics?
Molenbroek and de Bruin discuss the various approaches that one can take to accommodating the range of anthropometric characteristics, summarized in the diagram below:
The most basic approach, if we can even call it that, is "Procrustus", which means that no attempt to accommodate the user has been made, and the user must adapt to the product, however it happened to be designed. Incidentally, this term comes from Greek Mythology, where Procrustes was fitted to a bed by sawing off his head and feet. Only slightly better is the Ego-design approach, where the designer uses his or her own body as a reference. Now every designer does this to some extent for convenience, but it should serve only as a starting reference point.
Design for the mean sounds like a good idea - find the average eye height, and the majority of users will be accommodated. False assumption - as the diagram indicates, a majority of people are excluded by relying on the mean, with only a few falling into the sweet spot in the center.
Designing for one end of the spectrum (small) or the other (tall), can work in some cases. For example, if you design a door to accommodate the tallest users, then by definition, those of shorter stature will fit as well, as clearance is a one-ended variable. But in our case, the appropriate height of a kiosk display is a two-ended issue - there is a hypothetical "too high" as well as a "too low".
Which brings us to some workable approaches. Design for adjustability means that the product can accommodate a range of users, typically through a mechanical solution. For example, a tilting, height adjustable screen, or multiple interaction stations set at different eye heights. Of course adjustability in the physical world adds cost and complexity, and can lead to unreliable products, so is not always an available solution.
In the end, the most common solution is to Design for More Types. In practice this typically means defining a population and then fitting for a reasonable range within that population. Traditionally that range spans from the smallest fifth percentile to the largest 95th percentile. This includes a very broad range of users, but purposely excludes the most extreme 10% of the population (the largest 5% and smallest 5%) - the long tail, where a small number of outlier users can account for a significant design change.
Last, but not least is the ideal - Design for All. This means that the product can fit the entire range of an anthropometric characteristic. This is technically possible as humans are not infinitely variable in any dimension.
Part 1 Takeaways:
In Part 2 I'll discuss how to apply the anthropometrics to a real-world interaction design problem, and also discuss the added complexity of dealing with multiple anthropometric variables - like eye height and arm length, so the user can actually see and reach the screen.
comments and suggestions always welcomed...
I'm trying to track the hundreds of new product announcements at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. And while there's always innovations in technical functionality, it's hard to spot a direct ergonomic improvement.
But here's a couple of exceptions to that rule:
I think there's a real opportunity for ergonomic expertise to support many of the international programs that support developing communities. For example, Engineers Without Borders enables the "implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students." These projects are frequently focused on basic human needs such as water purification/delivery and sanitation. Many of these solutions require human power. I wonder whether ergonomic expertise has been applied to the design and implementation of these systems. This is particularly important, given the diversity of anthropometric characteristics across the served communities.
One organization that is contributing is Synergo Arts, which is a "resource for ergonomics education, consulting, and design for communities of artists and artisans around the world, to maximize their health, income, performance, productivity, and the quality of the art or craft that they create." Their ergonomically designed weaving bench (pictured above) also won a User-Centered Design Award from the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society in 2007. The bench is actually produced by local carpenters (in South America) for local weavers, thereby benefiting two industries.
If you know of similar organizations or individuals working towards improving ergonomics in developing communities, please contact me.
Several months ago I discussed the relevance of user-centered design to the successful design of sustainable products and services. Now a more concrete (literally) example of the intrinsic connection between human factors and green design.
Alan Hedge writes about The Sprouting of "Green" Ergonomics (PDF) in the December issue of the HF&ES Bulletin. Hedge reports on the new version of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Green Building Rating System, which includes specific guidelines and credits for creating an ergonomic environment.
The guidelines focus primarily on office workstation ergonomics (although industrial settings are touched on as well). For example, the LEED guidlines cover standards around display adjustability and glare, work surface dimensions, and chair adjustability. You can download relevant "green" ergonomic checklists from Cornell's ergonomic resource.
Adding ergonomics to LEED requirements seems like a natural extension to me - both are targeted at improving the health and comfort of individuals who work within buildings. There may also be some direct correlations between the more traditional LEED categories such as materials & resources, and ergonomics. For instance, a poorly fitted workstation may be more readily replaced than one chosen appropriately - thereby leading to increased materials use.
Hedge also makes the point that the new LEED guidelines will change perceptions about office ergonomics - from a reactive, problem-solving model in most cases, to a proactive problem-avoiding approach as it is intended.
In an intriguing coincidence, two top-names in ergonomic-focused industrial design have introduced new chairs that take different approaches to fit and comfort. As with my recent discussion on handle design, chairs are another iconic challenge to ergonomic designers - thousands of versions, but no exact set of rules to achieve perfect fit and comfort.
Core77 posted a "living with" review of the Herman Miller Embody chair. In other words, they actually "spent every day for just over a month living with the chair, putting it through its paces, and trying to wear it out." I encourage you to read the full review of this innovative chair, but from an ergonomics perspective I was most interested in how the chair reacted with the user:
"The designers apparently intended this chair to encourage you to move around in it, and there's a five-page PDF detailing how the chair was designed to promote "tissue perfusion"..in other office chairs I've used, I will of course occasionally stretch; but the difference with the Embody was that I was stretching into the chair, using parts of it like some kind of Pilates ball. It really has to be experienced to be understood."
A simpler alternative is the the eponymous Diffrient Work Chair for Humanscale, reviewed by ID Magazine's editor-in-chief Julie Lasky, Diffrient has been working on the chair for a decade, so that
"The user’s weight automatically transfers a proportionate force for recline, eliminating the need for adjustment and the usual spring mechanism; leaning back ramps the seat upward and forward to achieve the appropriate upright or reclined position...Though he considered a forward tilt mechanism in early Diffrient chair prototypes, he chose not to have one in the end because of the added cost and complexity. Besides, he says, the “mechanism encourages the common but undesirable position of people straining to operate the computer.”
While these two chairs differ in their ergonomic approach - the Diffirient chair is expected to cost less than half of the Embody - they are designed with different functions and towards different uses - so a direct comparison is not necessarily relevant. But as a researcher focused on both quantitative fit and qualitative comfort, I am looking forward to experiencing the state of the art from two of the most respected design names in the industry.
With just a few weeks left in the year (and even less productive blogging time), I thought I would put together this brief "best of 2008" on Designing for Humans. If you're new to the blog, this is a good way to catch-up on some of the highlights you may have missed over the past year:
...okay, my link pen ran out.
The handle of a tool or product is a lot like the home page of a web site - they are both the user's primary touch point, allow access to the available functionality, and significantly influence how the overall product or site is perceived.
Another important similarity is that even though thousands of handles and home pages have been designed, there is always a challenge when creating a new one. This is understandable for home pages as there is so much variability in terms of content, information architecture and interaction design options. But it's surprising for handles, as they have been around (in both natural and man-made forms) for thousands of years - you would think we would have gotten it right by now.
In fact there are recognized guidelines for handle design - for example NIOSH's guide for hand tools includes recommendations on handle diameter, grip span, etc. But there is also great variability in handle design depending on the user population's range of physical characteristics, the particular task context (e.g. wearing gloves) and the product materials, to name a few. So any guidelines are going to be a compromise across a set of these characteristics. And note these metrics tend to focus on anthropometric fit, which does not always correlate directly with the user's perceived comfort.
It's important to keep up with changes in data and guidelines. One of the key dimensions in handle design is circumference. The NIOSH guide suggest a range of 1.25 to 2 inches (about 31.75 to 50.8mm). A new study published in the October issue of Human Factors has looked at this issue in more detail. Investigation of Grip Force, Normal Force, Contact Area, Hand Size and Handle Size for Cylindrical Handles is the very descriptively worded title. They take a detailed look at the how and why of finger anthropometrics and geometry impacting effective grip:
"For a small handle diameter,finger flexion results in skin folding and reduced contact with a handle. For a large handle diameter, the handle surface may not fit into the curvature of the finger because gripping flexes the fingertip."
At the end of the article, a rare find - a specific numeric recommendation is given: "the mean optimal handle diameter can be calculated to be 40mm".
Now before you go designing all handles with a 40mm diameter, keep in mind that this is optimized around a simple cylindrical handle - and its based off of US Air Force hand measurement data from 1971. Like all anthropometric guidelines, take with a grain of salt - use it as a starting point, but build rough models to evaluate fit with an appropriate range of representative users. In other words, the same user-centered design process that you would use to create any artifact - like a web site home page.
Acura is running an elegant new TV ad highlighting vehicle safety. It shows human bodies in motion as if they were in collisions, but out of the context of an automobile.
Not to be taken too literally, but I might disagree that "there is no angle on the human body that was designed for a collision" - case in point, the orbit that protects the eye -
"The bony structures of the orbit protrude beyond the surface of the eye. They protect the eye while allowing it to move freely in a wide arc." (Merck Manual)
I've been talking about SizeChina ever since I heard Roger Ball present at the 2007 IDSA conference. Subsequently, his effort to create reference anthropometric data of Chinese heads and faces for product designers has won an IDEA Gold award for research. The project made valuable discoveries regarding key differences between Asian and Caucasian head sizes and ratios, that have not been consistently accommodated in the design of eyewear, protective headgear, medical/dental products, etc.
Finally, the products from the SizeChina project are commercially available from Certiform. These include a set of 10 representative solid headforms (pictured). You can purchase the set for $20k or a single on for $2500.
The detailed data sets (3D scan files and measurements) are also available at various prices/package levels, ranging from a 12-person "light version" for $399 up to almost $15k for the complete data set of over 1500 scans.
Certiform has provided a sample file set in Excel format to give you a sense of the level of detail included: Download Landmarks_data_sample. See the diagram below to interpret the data set, especially if you can't tell your tragion from your zygofrontale.
A recent dissertation out of Delft University (Netherlands), discusses Comfort in using hand tools: theory, design and evaluation. You can download the document as a PDF (note - cover page is in Dutch, but document is written in English).
Kuijt-Evers covers the state of the art in measuring ergonomic comfort for non-powered hand tools and conducted empirical research to validate a set of qualitative comfort predictor for use in design and evaluation.
Here's the abstract:
Everyone uses hand tools in their daily life, like knife and fork. Moreover, many people use hand tools in their profession as well as during leisure time. It is important that they can work with hand tools that provide comfort. Until now, the avoidance of discomfort was emphasized during the design process of hand tools, like screwdrivers, hand saws and paint brushes. In the near future, the focus will shift towards providing comfort. However, some questions need to be answered to make this shift, like: What does the end-user mean with comfort in using hand tools? How can we translate this into hand tool design and the design process? How can we evaluate hand tools on comfort? These questions are answered in the current thesis.
"Bodies need to fit. Designers of public spaces have devised a maximum average unit size—that is, they’ve figured out how much space a person takes up, and how little of it he or she can abide. The master fitter is John J. Fruin, the author of “Pedestrian Planning and Design,” which was published in 1971 and reprinted, in 1987, by Elevator World, the publisher of the leading industry magazine, Elevator World. (Its January issue came with 3-D glasses, for viewing its best-new-elevator-of-the-year layout, of the Dexia BIL Banking Center, in Luxembourg.) Fruin introduced the concept of the “body ellipse,” a bird’s-eye graphic representation of an individual’s personal space. It’s essentially a shoulder-width oval with a head in the middle. He employed a standard set of near-maximum human dimensions: twenty-four inches wide (at the shoulders) and eighteen inches deep. If you draw a tight oval around this figure, with a little bit of slack to account for body sway, clothing, and squeamishness, you get an area of 2.3 square feet, the body space that was used to determine the capacity of New York City subway cars and U.S. Army vehicles. Fruin defines an area of three square feet or less as the “touch zone”; seven square feet as the “no-touch zone”; and ten square feet as the “personal-comfort zone.” Edward Hall, who pioneered the study of proxemics, called the smallest range—less than eighteen inches between people—“intimate distance,” the point at which you can sense another person’s odor and temperature. As Fruin wrote, “Involuntary confrontation and contact at this distance is psychologically disturbing for many persons.”
Following up from my posting on the Size China presentation at last year's Connecting '07 IDSA national conference, Metropolis magazine has a feature article on Roger Ball's research effort to create a digital database of head anthropometrics for the Asian market. Sizing Chinadiscusses the inspiration and rationale of the project, its technical challenges ("Aside from chasing chickens out of the scanning room, the Size China team had to battle with time"), and the surprising findiings:
Ball had initially assumed there would be a correlation between head sizes and eye, nose, mouth, and ear sizes, which would allow him to create a series of facially featured average Chinese heads. After scanning several thousand subjects he discovered that there is no correlation between the zones of the face at all: “You could have a very large head, very tiny eyes, and a medium mouth, or a tiny head, very big eyes, and an average mouth,” he says.
High-speed video and photography is getting a lot of attention these days. This month's Wired Magazine summarized the history of high-speed photography, from the work of Harold Edgerton to the recent use of lasers to capture images with shutter speeds of 300 x 10-15 seconds!
(also see last year's article on The Ultimate High-Speed Photography Kit).
And just last week, Vision Research, makers of commercial-grade high-speed cameras, announced the Phantom V12 (inset photo), capable of recording one million pictures per second.
But from a practical point of view, the most intriguing news is the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1. Due in March for an estimated $1000, this camera brings high-speed photography and video to the digital prosumer market. Several unique features include:
In addition to these impressive capabilities, the camera offers some novel user interaction feature such as a buffer to pre-record images prior to the shutter depression, allowing room for error when trying to capture a quick event; and Slow Motion View to review real-time events in slow-motion on the cameras LCD via a buffer. And of course...stereo recording : ) All of these features are exciting from a gizmo geek's perspective - and there are plenty of reviews and videos from CES.
But there's a tremendous opportunity to apply this technology to product design. Specifically, I will be using the high speed burst mode and high speed digital movies to capture motion during rapid manual tasks - such as the use of a construction tool, surgical instrument or mobile device keypad. Extending visual perception to micro-seconds is likely to reveal interesting sub-patterns of movement and orientation that are overlooked or invisible at a standard time-scale. Moreover, it introduces a new perspective on observing physical behavior that expands user research capabilities - at least as far as the presumably massive file storage and power needs of this unique camera will take you.
Even if you don't design aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration's Human Factors Design Standard, is an invaluable (and free) reference for design practitioners.
The complete design standard is large (10MB) and comprehensive - "an exhaustive compilation of human factors practices and principles" - but it provides succinct and tactical, evidence-based information. For example, concerning touchscreens, fourteen specific guidelines are given for button size, labeling, position, dead space, etc, but the need to test with representative users is also recommended to keep these rules grounded in reality.
In 2007 the FAA added draft updates related to interface design, including displays and non-keyboard input devices (e.g. mouse, joystick, touchscreen).
A brief, anonymous survey form is required to download the Human Factors Design Standard (HFDS). Once past that, you may download the entire document or any of the 15 individual chapters or drafts, ranging from Alarms, Audio and Voice to Anthropometry and Biomechanics (a particularly strong section of the document).
Sparsely, but appropriately illustrated, the HFDS gives the actionable guidelines that so many product designers and students are desparate to find in a single location.
PS - Experimenting with larger font size for better readability on recent posts.
...an interesting thread from Google Answers on design anthropometrics to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
Several office and furniture design companies provide free, valuable resources on ergonomics for design. I've highlighted two particular examples:
Given the 140(!) sessions that took place at the 2007 IDSA national conference this year in San Francisco, there's no shame in missing a few sessions. Of course the topics that you really want to see all occur simultaneously, leaving one with a "paradox of choices".
I was most impressed by Roger Ball's Size China: A New World of Ergonomics. Roger is a designer by training and professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic. For the last 18 months, he has been building a database of anthropometric data by digitally scanning over 2,000 Chinese citizens. The project was inspired by the lack of a comprehensive anthropometric database of Asian head and facial features, comparable to what is available for Caucasian populations. For example, most helmets used in China were designed against Caucasian measurements and are ill-fitting due to significant differences in head shape between Asians and Caucasians(see image).
Roger said that his data will be made available for free to academic endeavors by contacting him directly.
Learn more about the project at: http://www.sizechina.com/html/index.html
I was intrigued by this project and interested in potential differences in perceived and reported fit among populations, not due to head size, but due to potential cultural and linguistic variances in what is considered comfortable and fitting. Perhaps some of the presenations on measuring emotion would have helped me address those issues, but like I said, I couldn't make all of the presentations.
These are updated links, rather than updated data per se:
Research conducted for by the British government's Department of Trade and Industry on strength factors across ages and nationalities. Primarily focused on hand-related characteristics (e.g. grip, push-pull strength):
Extensive hand anthropometry data from U.S. Army study:
On Saturday May 13th the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware (about 30 minutes from Philadelphia) will host "Design for the Hand", a seminar on ergonomics and design for the hand.
According to the IDSA Philly site:
"This event features presentations by Rachel Delphia of Carnegie Mellon and Carnegie Museum; Bryce Rutter, Ph.d. of Metaphase Design; and a design charette for attendees."
The event is scheduled from 11AM-3PM and pre-registration for IDSA members can be done through this form.
Very extensive, filterable data from research done in Belgium, includes detailed measurement data for multiple age groups and even wheelchair dimensions and guidelines. This may be the most complete and up-to-date anthropometric data sets I've seen.
The United States Air Force has a set of online course on ergonomics, including courses in:
This is quite useful information, and is not focused on military applications specifically. For example, the section on Tool Design demonstrates different types of hand-grips with an ice-cream scooper.
A new reference book has been published, focused assessment and design of the Ergonomics of special populations.
"Underscoring the need for extraordinary ergonomics, the book illustrates various approaches to measuring the characteristics, capabilities, and limitations of those who differ from the norm. Kroemer explains how to assess and determine abilities and needs and demonstrates how to design tools, homes, and environments to make working space safe and living space easy.
Researchers and students will find helpful information about measuring people's sizes, strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities, and from this information determine the needs for specific ergonomic accommodations. The book enables human factors professionals, architects, and designers to devise work tasks, devices, tools, and environments for special populations – particularly for children. Health care professionals and employers will discover ways to help people who suffer from temporary or permanent disabilities so they can cope with the demands at work, at home, or in a care facility."
I've located some more recent data sets for the U.S. population from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This is an extensive data set, focusing on a range of characteristics, primarily around health/nutrition attributes, but certainly applicable to many ergonomic design characteristics. Includes 64 tables covering everything from weight, height to wrist and buttock circumference:
Research conducted for by the British government's Department of Trade and Industry on strength factors across ages and nationalities. Primarily focused on hand-related characteristics (e.g. grip, push-pull strength).
One of the most common requests from the recent survey was for anthropometric data sources. Unfortunately, most data sources are proprietary and/or costly.
Here are some of the leading data and measurement providers:
Here are links to a few publicly available sources, but please comment if you know of more modern and diverse data sets that are available:
UPDATE: The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has recently published Guidelines for Using Anthropometric Data in Product Design that discusses methods, resources and practices for designing for the human body.