“Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely” – Merriam Webster. It forms a central aspect of the human-centered design approach, and it seeks to design products, systems, or processes with an account of their interaction with the people who use them.
Ergonomics has three facets – physical, cognitive and social.
This is concerned with every aspect of a job in using a tool or device, including the physical stresses exerted on muscles, nerves, joints, bones, tendons and the like. The design of an ergonomic workplace harmonizes tasks and tools to fit into the physical capabilities and limitations of individuals and to cater for their safety. The human body has limitations to how long it can stay in certain positions, for how long and how much force it can resist, and responds through injuries and a range of musculoskeletal disorders when those limits are exceeded.
Poor physical ergonomics in design can be manifested in work surfaces at the wrong height, uncomfortable chairs, shelves and bins that are too high or out of reach, and awkward hand tools. These problems can be solved by an informed design of both the tools and the arrangement and positioning of objects in the workspace. Ergonomics has assisted in identifying the types of movements and positions that are likely to inflict pain or physical duress, as well as design solutions to the problems, which removes barriers to productivity through improving human experience.
Cognitive ergonomics helps a designer to understand how people perceive and approach work and tools. Work environment affects how well people work and how happy they are at work. When designing anything to be used in a workplace, a designer needs to consider how it affects the work environment in terms of: Light, noise and natural view. For example, an architect needs to provide adequate lighting to offices and other working areas, failure to which workers perceive it as a lack of concern about them by the employer.
Social ergonomics touches on how people’s interactions with each other are affected by the workspace environment. A socially ergonomic design allows for; people regulating their privacy, spontaneity in interactions, different size groups etc.
The designer is tasked with the responsibility of creating a holistic work environment consisting of safe working tools in an appropriate arrangement, a favorable environment and satisfied workers/people.