What does “ergonomics” mean for designing work spaces & buildings?

At CCD, most of our work is the application of ergonomics/human factors to the design of the built environment; in particular to control centres. But the use of the term “ergonomics” often brings confusion and misunderstanding about what we actually do and the value that it brings to projects.

This seems to be largely due to the strengthening association of the term ergonomics with office seating, mice, keyboards, etc, and by its use in marketing some consumer products. 

So for the built environment more and more people think that ergonomics/human factors is just about the physical work space – is the desk at the right height? Can the user reach something?

These are important but only describe a small portion of the approach that ergonomics should bring to human centered design. So what does it really do?

Well for us, it is a broader design of the working “system” around the human. This can be physical but it’s not just about minimising RSI – its about communication, facilitating team working, spatial relationships.  It’s about creating a working environment that is suitable for the work that is being done.

It’s also about the socio-technical issues and the interaction between people, teams and technology.  What are the jobs we are asking people to do? How do we manage the change that the design of the environment or the technology will bring about?

And it’s also about the psychological. How will people behave in diffierent environments which we design? How can we influence motivation, vigilance or even feelings of wellbeing?

Until we can reclaim the word ergonomics from its increasingly narrowly perceived definition, perhaps we have to stop using it to get the message across?  But then how do designers who use the broader application of ergonomics differentiate themselves?



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