To remain competitive, it is essential for businesses to continually improve their products and services. In today’s fast-moving world of technologically driven business, products can become obsolete quickly. What worked today could become redundant tomorrow.
This is why product design and development are essential. Large companies employ entire design departments to work on innovative new products. By designing new inventions and products, you can stay ahead of the competition and keep your business portfolio fresh.
One particular approach to development is ergonomic product design and development. In this guide, we look at precisely what ergonomic design is and how it can benefit your business. In addition, we provide 11 excellent tips for good product design and development using ergonomics.
What Is Ergonomics and How Does It Benefit Product Design?
Ergonomics is defined in the Collins Dictionary as:
“…the study of how equipment and furniture can be arranged in the order that people can do work or other activities more efficiently and comfortably.”
The Free Dictionary adds to this and defines ergonomics as:
“The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.”
From this, we can surmise that ergonomic design is the process of developing a product/service that is easy to use and provides a favorable, enjoyable experience for the end user. It involves creating and designing a product in its most effective and useful form.
Ergonomic design customizes a product to meet specific user needs. As you can imagine, this design approach is hugely beneficial for hands-on products such as tools, office equipment, and furniture.
The following are some of the main benefits of ergonomic product design:
Safety – Product safety is imperative in today’s health and safety-driven world. Businesses put an emphasis on safety, and it is an exceptionally high priority in manufacturing industries. Ergonomic design can help improve safety.
For example, a power drill often has hand guards to help prevent accidents. Or a set of drawers may have a safety mechanism to prevent the individual drawers falling out. If you design a product with ergonomics in mind, you can ensure that it is entirely safe for your customers to use.
Comfort – Products that you interact with physically must be comfortable. If you are using a product for a prolonged period of time, it must not cause any physical pain or potential ailments. The best example of ergonomic design to improve comfort is an office chair. If you work in an office, you will sit in your chair for many hours in a working day.
With that in mind, the chair has to be comfortable. It should support your back, promote good posture, and also support your arms and legs. An ergonomically designed product will offer unparalleled levels of comfort.
Ease of Use – What good is a product or service if it is difficult to use? What would you think as an end customer if you spent hours trying to figure out how to use a product? Ergonomic product design can help improve ease of use. When you take time to look at how the product is used and perceived, you can draw on the data you collect to tailor the design of your product for ease of use.
An example could be an ergonomic computer mouse. Ergonomic mice often have a curved shape that fits snugly in your hand. Furthermore, they may have additional side buttons that enable you to perform other tasks without moving your hand to the keyboard.
Enjoyment – Finally, ergonomic design can help make a product enjoyable. Customer satisfaction and experience play a huge role in the viability of a product. Would you want to use a product if it was a chore to use or you simply found it boring and uninteresting? Ergonomics can help improve your customers’ psychological interactions with a product.
As you can see, ergonomic product design really can benefit your business. It can be applied to a myriad of different product categories and really push your business design to the next level.
Top 11 Tips for Good Ergonomic Product Design
Now that you understand ergonomic product design, we can move on to the tips! We have expert knowledge of design processes and understand how to implement ergonomic product design and development. The following are 11 tips that we feel can be of great benefit:
1. Consider Ergonomics Early in the Design Process
Ergonomic design should never be an afterthought that is begun when the design process is already in full swing. As a freelance product designer, you should give priority to ergonomics and consider it early in the design process. Ideally, it should be discussed during the initial stages of development including the research stage and the drafting process.
Why is this important? Consider this – what happens if you have designed a new type of chair? It is complete. You have spent days and weeks researching the design and creating something you feel is awesome.
It comes to the testing stage however and you find that the chair is uncomfortable and causes back pain if you sit on it for longer time periods. You now have to restart the whole design process from scratch – you have wasted time, money, and effort on a fruitless venture.
If you had looked at ergonomics sooner, you would have created a comfortable design that didn’t cause health issues. This is why it is imperative to consider ergonomics early in the design process – to avoid any problems in the future and to create a more effective end product.
2. Find Your Target Customer before Considering Ergonomics
Every product has a target customer. Nappies are intended for babies and toddlers. Mobility scooters are intended for the mobility impaired and elderly. Identifying your target customer is hugely important. By finding your target customer, you can tailor your ergonomic design process to suit.
If you design your product ergonomically, but to a generic audience, you may fall short. You may miss important factors that could radically alter your design. Let’s say you are designing a pair of gardening clippers. Your customer base is predominantly elderly – over the age of 70. You do not consider this, however, and design clippers that are stiff and suitable for a younger person that has stronger hands/grip.
How would your predominantly elderly customer base be able to use this product? If they have conditions such as arthritis or a weak grip, they would need clippers with less tension that could be squeezed with less pressure.
This process is known as user-centric design. You are designing your product ergonomically around the end user, i.e. your target customer. This is why it is important to identify who you’re selling the product to before starting the design process. Tailor your ergonomic design to suit your target customer for more efficient end results.
To find your target customer, examine the following:
- Age groups
3. Gather Statistical Data from Customers Relating to Previous Product Versions
Customers are essential to the design process. If you want to create an ergonomic product design, you can improve the procedure by using customer stats and data. Your customer base can provide a wealth of useful information. You could gather this data in the following ways:
– Email surveys
– Website questionnaires
– Product reviews
– Social media
If you gather as much data as possible, you can use it to improve your ergonomics. You can look at what aspects customers like about your product, for example. Furthermore, you can also discover what they expect as standard.
Let’s go back to the chair example. You could find out what customers think the most comfortable material is, or if they prefer a chair with or without arms. You have to remember that your customers are your most important tool. Therefore, find your target customer first, and then use their knowledge and preferences to create the ultimate ergonomic design.
4. Look at Competitors’ Designs for Inspiration and Ergonomic Analysis
Before we look at this point, we should make it clear that outright plagiarism is not ok. You cannot simply copy a competitor’s design and call it your own.
That being said, you can look at competitors for inspiration. This is common practice in the world of business – to analyze what your competitors are creating. Some consumer product designers may even purchase products from their competitors with the sole purpose of dissecting them and analyzing their ergonomic design and beneficial qualities. Market research is essential to the ergonomic design process.
Look at what your competitors are creating. Which products sell well? Which products have had a poor reception? Why did a particular product sell well? Why did one of their products fail? Aside from mere statistics, you can analyze the actual design too from an ergonomic point of view.
By now you should be building up a whole case of useful information that you can incorporate into your ergonomic design process – target customers, customer data, and custom designs.
5. Consider Which Type of Ergonomics Applies to Your Product Design
There are actually three different categories of ergonomics. Each category applies to a different part of the product design process. Understanding the three different types will ensure that you cover every aspect of ergonomics that applies to your product. Furthermore, it means you will not waste time on unnecessary processes. The three categories are detailed below:
This is a study of the human anatomy – biomechanical, physiological, and anthropometric characteristics and what effect these have on human physical activity. It looks at how product design affects our bodies in a physical way, in particular, how we interact with a product – what muscles we have to use, what pressure we have to apply, and what movements we have to use, for example.
Some CAD drafting and design services specialize in creating ergonomic product designs. This type of ergonomics is applied to physical products that we interact with using our own bodies such as furniture and tools. It can also apply to digital products, however, because we still use our hands and eyes to use them. Examples of physical ergonomic considerations include:
- Manual handling
- Movement and repetition
- Physical postures
- Workspace layout
This is a study of human mental processes – memory, cognition, reasoning, emotion, and perception, for example. It looks specifically at how we interact with a product on a mental level – what effect it has on our brain, thought processes, and feelings. This type of ergonomics can apply to any type of product – whatever we use, it has an impact on our mind. Typical processes involved with physical ergonomics include:
- Cultural and religious differences
This relates to the workplace and the organizational structure of a business. This type of ergonomics will generally not apply to product design. It is mainly involved in staff management, quality, workplace culture, and human resource management.
6. Find out What Common Problems Customers Have Encountered When Using This Type of Product
Different products have common flaws. A garden tool could be too heavy or non-weather resistant. A chair could cause back problems or be uncomfortable. A desk could provide insufficient arm-rest space. A monitor could lack swivel and tilt facilities. Understanding these flaws is imperative during the ergonomic design process. If you understand what flaws customers commonly encounter, you can:
A. Avoid making them again
B. Look at ways to negate these flaws
Flaws and problems promote innovation – they encourage designers to think outside the box. This can be beneficial for more than just the ergonomic design process – it can also help your business create revolutionary new products.
When collecting customer data, as mentioned in point 3, be sure to analyze problems. Ask previous customers what problems they found to be the most irritating. Gather information and ensure that any common problems are brought to light. You could also look at historical data and similar product reviews to find common problems.
7. Ensure Your Team Understands the Basics of Ergonomics
You will struggle to create an ergonomic product if you are the only person who actually understands what the term means. Your whole team must have a similar understanding of the word. They must have a clear understanding of what ergonomics is. Furthermore, they must also understand what implications this has for product design and the viability of your end product.
Take time to educate your fellow co-workers. Explain the definition and talk about the practical applications of ergonomics. Show them examples of poorly designed products, and how ergonomics can have a positive impact. If they understand the importance of ergonomics and incorporate its considerations into the product design process, the process will run more smoothly. Moreover, you will develop a product that is ergonomically viable.
Fostering the right culture can help greatly when designing and developing a product. Firstly, it can make your working life easier. You do not have to fight an uphill struggle and instead can bounce ideas off your fellow team members. Secondly, and more importantly, it can benefit your business. As your team becomes invested in ergonomic design, it will show in the quality of your product design.
8. Create Product Design Goals to Give Focus and Drive
Before starting the design process, it is important to set clear product design goals. If you do not have clear goals, the whole process may become unorganized, unfocused, and inefficient. Defining goals for your product will help in every stage of the process – not just for ergonomic design. Typical goals could include:
- Approximate production cost
- Approximate development time-frame
- Size and appearance of the product
- Approximate production time of product
- Primary product purpose
- How the product will be used
You could create a checklist containing your product design goals. Furthermore, you could also create a checklist for ergonomic viability goals such as:
- Is the design easy to handle?
- Could the design cause potential harm or stress?
- Is the design easy to use/operate?
- Is the design easy to understand?
Define goals and review them regularly to ensure they are being achieved. You can also use these goals to analyze your product design during the prototype and testing stage as seen below.
9. Create Product Prototypes to Test Ergonomic Viability
Prototypes are an integral part of the ergonomic design process. Research, data, and statistics can only give you so much. Nothing beats actually seeing the finished product and testing it in a real-life scenario. By creating a prototype, you can actually see the product and test it. You can use it yourself – see how it works. You can see if what you have researched and designed is applicable to a real-world product.
In today’s modern world, prototypes are generally easier to build than ever. We have a wealth of technology such as CAD design and 3D printing. These technologies can be used to build a prototype at little expense. You could create a number of different prototypes and test them all for their ergonomic qualities.
When using a prototype to assess the ergonomic viability of a product you must consider the following:
- Usability: Can you use it as intended?
- Comfort: Will customers have a pleasant experience using it?
- Convenience: Is the product easy to use or difficult?
Spend time using the prototype. Record your findings and compare them to your original product goals and brief. If changes are required to improve ergonomic viability, then make them and re-test! Always refer back to your goals to keep on track.
10. Conventional Designs Are Not Always Ergonomic – Go against the Grain
Just because a design has been used for hundreds of years, it does not mean that it is fully ergonomic. There are hundreds of product designs that are not ergonomic. Don’t fall into the trap of following tradition, or what has gone before, and making the same mistakes. Be inventive. Be innovative. Look to improve on what has been created historically.
Let’s look at the garden clippers example again. For decades, clippers have been designed with a pair of straight handles that are identical. This is a design that has become a convention. Many developers have noted, however, that the straight lines put increased pressure on your hands when gripping the clippers. To combat this, most garden clippers now are designed with curved handles that make them easier to grip – you do not need to apply as much pressure.
This is an instance where the convention has been defied. The standard design has been analyzed, and a more ergonomic alternative has been created. This new design is superior and offers an improved customer experience. You can do this too when starting the ergonomic design process – go against the grain!
11. Do Not Compromise to Create a Product That Is Cheap to Produce
One of the worst things you can do is dismiss ergonomics as unimportant. Even if you are creating a simple product, ergonomics can still play a key role. If you fail to take an ergonomic design approach, your business could suffer in the long term with poor product reception. It could prove to be unusable or sales could fall short of projected targets.
Furthermore, do not compromise on quality to save on expense. We can go back to the chair example once again. Let’s say you have created the chair from an ergonomic design process – it is comfortable and supports your back.
You have two choices of material, however, for the frame and arms – a cheap quality hardwood, or a more expensive material. Whilst the hardwood may be cheaper, studies show that it will cause muscle strain and discomfort. The higher quality material, on the other hand, is supple and offers greater levels of comfort to complement the design of the chair.
Do you save money just to create an inferior product? Or do you use the high-quality material and create a superb end product that customers can comfortably use? The second option is always preferable, even if the cheaper option is only slightly inferior.
Improve Your Product Design Today and Use an Ergonomic Approach
We have looked at an extensive array of tips. Let us now reinforce the reason ergonomic design is important. Ergonomic design can help in the following ways:
- Determine optimum product size, shape and form
- Determine what is the easiest product design to use
- Identify suitable characteristics that should be considered during design
- Identify potential areas for innovation and revolutionary design
- Improve the safety of the product
- Improve the comfort and performance of the product
- Improve the overall viability of product to the end customer
These are just a few of the benefits – there are more that are industry/product dependent. In short, by using an ergonomic product design approach, you can create a superb end product. The following are some examples of ergonomically designed products to help you understand the concept and its benefits:
Ergonomic Keyboard – For those who have office jobs that require using a computer, an ergonomic keyboard is essential. If you are not comfortable typing with your keyboard you can encounter wrist, arm, finger, and even back problems. An ergonomic keyboard is designed in such a way that it relieves your arms and fingers of any unnecessary stretching and pressure. It can also help reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Adjustable Monitor Stand – Another essential office piece for those using a computer is a monitor and stand. A poorly designed monitor may have a stand that isn’t adjustable, but is in a fixed position without any tilt or swivel features. An ergonomic monitor stand, on the other hand, is adjustable, allowing you to tilt the monitor to reduce glare. Moreover, it allows you to change its height so that you have a comfortable sitting position. You should be able to adjust the monitor placement easily to fit a number of different situations.
Ergonomic Office Chair – To complete the trio of office equipment there is the ergonomic office chair, which will have features such as a backrest, lumbar support, armrests, and adjustable parts. Lumbar support is particularly important as it can improve your posture and prevent slouching. Alternatively, the armrests can provide additional support in conjunction with an ergonomic keyboard and desk.
Xbox Controller – This may seem like a strange one, but it is certainly ergonomic! Microsoft has developed its Xbox controllers using an ergonomic design process – everything about the controller speaks of comfort and usability. The shape of the controller fits snugly in between your two hands, for example. Moreover, the analog sticks and buttons are positioned so that they can easily and comfortably be reached by your fingers and thumbs. It is a fantastic design that gamers love.
As you can see, ergonomic products are everywhere! If you walk into a modern office you will find a host of different goodies that have been stringently designed and tested. For further inspiration, next time you are in such a place, take time to look at different items and see if you can spot what ergonomic considerations the designers have made.
Don’t Forget That Cad Crowd Can Help
We hope you have found this article useful. Ergonomics is hugely important for product designers. Designing your products from an ergonomic viewpoint ensures that they are viable and efficient.
Ergonomics can help improve safety, comfort, performance, and enjoyment. Furthermore, it can help you identify important product characteristics that should be accounted for during the design process. If you have any questions then feel free to leave a comment or voice your own opinions!
If you are outright struggling with the design process, Cad Crowd can lend a hand. We can put you in touch with our CAD service experts. Additionally, we can help you hire freelance product and development personnel to assist with any important projects you have. Check out the rest of our website to see the design services we offer or to get a free quote!