From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

I Really Hate Being Lied To

You know, I really hate being lied to – especially by ill informed sleazy salesmen who are trying to sell me some snake oil touting features and benefits that are either non-existent, a play on words, or simply saying something that they think I might have no knowledge of simply to make a sale.

“As seen on TV” comes to mind.  Like everyone else, I have been suckered in to purchase something on late night TV that looks really good, that really appeals to me, either as a matter of convenience (buy now and you won’t have to waste precious time going shopping for it) or that it really might work and it’s “Not available in stores”.  Right now I’m hitting about 50% on things purchased in this manner.  Not really being able to critique or inspect the items, to touch, feel or really look at them with an educated eye makes a BIG difference.

P.T. Barnum (also attributed to Abraham Lincoln) supposedly said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Humorist James Thurber is acknowledged with “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”

Unfortunately, you can fool All the people All the time with a big enough advertising budget, constant pounding, and constant exposure.  It brainwashes people – therein lies the issue:  the term “ergonomically designed” is without a doubt an insidious term used by those with a massive advertising budget who would push products onto those unaware.  Those who would like to believe what they are hearing is true, taking on a modicum of “blind faith”.  If this guy is telling me this, and he sounds like he knows what he is talking about, then it must be true.  Not being an overly cynical type, I try to listen and if he makes sense (even on TV) I consider his input, percolate it in my brain and make (what I think) is an informed decision.

But what if the subject has no real meaning, no real concrete definition, or no easy way to describe it?  Ergonomics is like this.  Most people don’t even know how to pronounce it and think if it has a bent handle then it is ergonomic.  Wrong!!!!

As I’ve stated before, ergonomics is now largely a marketing term, with its understanding lacking by the masses.  The profession needs elevation, both with those practicing the art and in the minds of consumers, manufacturers and business owners.  There has to be REAL value in ergonomics.  Currently there is not.  Mostly it is used to hawk poorly designed items which have no other value than being in a “voodoo ergonomics” collection.

We need some kind of control over the word ergonomic, especially the term “ergonomically designed”.  Clearly, there is a need to really combine design and ergonomics to the point of the masses knowing and understanding the two are inseparable.

As a designer, I am very much aware of someone saying “It’s really hip, cool, sexy, but it really falls flat in its function.”  So which comes first?  Design or Ergonomics?  Basically, I really don’t care!!!!!  All I know is that both need to be combined into a multidiscipline coagulation aimed at a singular focus.  Currently it is not and there is not much headway in that direction, and that saddens me.

Among my professional Ergonomist colleagues, we can point at virtually anything and say “now THAT’S ergonomically designed” and most of us will just roll our eyes.  We continually see products touted as ergonomic when some sort of attempt (perhaps with the truest of intent to be ergonomic) has been applied in a very incomplete manner.  Truly in the gist of being designed, there needs to be a methodology of exploring various solutions to the stated problem…then those solutions in final form should be compared to a set of criteria that either proves or disproves whether design was appropriately applied.  This is classical design methodology.  Most often shortsightedness in design, results in a bad product, with the phrase “ergonomically designed” having no real meaning.

Ergonomics has to be elevated to a valued business proposition – a science known to really impact a business’ bottom line.  Impact that really mean something to not only the general public in the way of products, but also to understanding the impact from not only revenue generation, but compared to a real marker: cost of employees.

The beginning is to establish a real meaning for ergonomics or ergonomically designed.  Perhaps a real set of standards, a grass roots educational program or whatever.  Now maybe if someone would just step up and offer an unlimited advertising budget……….

Ian Chong, a Certified Professional Ergonomist with Seattle based multi-disciplinary Extreme Ergonomics Inc., designs and prototypes unique tools, equipment and workstations addressing occupational injuries in all occupational environments, industrial and office on a national level.  Ian holds advanced degrees in Ergonomics & Occupational Biomechanics, Industrial Design; and Architectural Engineering, and is also profiled in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.


This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-07-27.