Why should designers of products, ergonomic or otherwise, know something about their audience before sending their design’s final mockup into production? So the users don’t mistake the product’s intent for something else entirely, putting themselves at risk of injury or at least an undesirable situation.
Case in point, the toilet brush, which one warning label would imply may have been mistakenly used for hygiene purposes. It’s the winner of the annual Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW) Wacky Warning Label contest for its warning that tells users “Do not use for personal hygiene.”
As entertaining as that warning label may be for the person who has never embarked upon some personal grooming with a toilet bowl brush, the annual contest does help lend credence to the importance of at least one tenet of ergonomics: to specifically identify a population and environment of use that fits a product. It also offers a glimpse at the underlying need for ergonomics training and communication ergonomics – users who understand how and why a product can help them tend to be more likely to use the product appropriately; the same principle can also be applied to task design and worker behavior (see “Are You Communicating Ergonomically?” The Ergonomics ReportTM February 9, 2005; “Effecting Change—Getting Workers to Adopt the Right Behavior.” The Ergonomics ReportTM January 26, 2005; and “Relying On Behavior.” The Ergonomics ReportTM January 12, 2005).
Often, when the purpose of a product design is merely assumed to be self-evident, misuse can occur, leading to potential injuries or rendering a design ineffective. Or, as M-LAW points out, it can result in lawsuits and the anxiety over which that leads to overly obvious warnings on products.
Other winning warning labels this year include a scooter with a warning that reads “This product moves when used,” a digital thermometer that comes with the friendly advice “Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally,” a blender that instructs users to “Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is operating,” and index-card sized air-filled packing material that reminds users “Do not use this product as a toy, pillow, or flotation device.”