From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Are Ergonomists Really Consulted in Mobile Phone Design?

Keep hitting the wrong buttons on your mobile phone? That could be because the device itself is just too small. Or, as Ergonomics Society of Australia president Margaret Head says, that the phone is more suited to a young child rather than a fully grown adult.

“Our preliminary studies of the latest phones suggest the buttons are only appropriately sized for five-year olds,” Head told Australia IT. “And if the current trend of shrinking phones continues, soon the buttons will only be big enough for three-year olds.”

Head, who told Australia IT that she doubts any qualified ergonomists are involved in the design process of mobile phones, noted that one of the problems with tiny cell phones, particularly for older users, involves vision. “Human visual acuity decreases markedly after 40,” Head said. “We’ve identified what we call the high visual fatigue zone, and mobiles definitely lie within this zone.”

But for older cell phone users, the addition of mobile phone accessories like the camera, while adding more confusing options and possibly more buttons, could actually act to improve usability, or at least keep it from getting much worse. Antal Keur, product marketing manager for Sony Ericsson, noted that since the camera is rapidly becoming the most important aspect in mobile phone design, the odds of any phone manufacturing company sacrificing screen size are slim.

Still, Head also finds faults going far beyond the size of the screen in the current crop of cell phones. She notes that most older users probably still use their index finger on the keypad for inputting numbers and commands although most mobile phone manufacturers assume that consumers have adapted to thumb control