World Usability Day, founded and organized each year in November by the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA), is aimed at raising awareness of the importance of human-centered design – A.K.A. ergonomics. The theme of World Usability Day 2009, on November 12, is sustainability. It promotes the value of coupling eco-friendliness with user-friendliness, and several new product releases exemplify this combination. A prominent ergonomist is using World Usability Day 2009 as an opportunity to remind designers to preserve the usability-ergonomics coupling.
A manufacturer of task lighting based in Arizona, Capsera Scientific, LLC, has released a high-powered waterproof LED industrial light that, according to the company, uses 70 percent less energy and shines for 100,000 hours on the same bulb. ExamLed is designed for medical and dental facilities. Caspera points out the LED technology turns electricity into light, not heat.
Caspera couples these eco aspects with features likely to win points for ergonomics. The lights are cool and safe to the touch even after hours of continuous operation, according to the company, and provide “a concentrated spot of brilliant white light wherever a highly focused beam of bright light is required.” And the light mounts on “a highly-maneuverable 32-inch articulated arm” that delivers precision adjustability, with a patent-pending index bearing that “effectively ends the problem of drifting arms.”
The company coats the surfaces of its units with an antimicrobial powder treatment. Like diligent handwashing between patients by hospital and clinic personnel, coating surfaces with antimicrobials ranks as a preventive measure. Limiting the places pathogens can flourish represents an ergonomic approach to reducing the risk of contagion.
Manufacturers of electronic book readers are among others using the sustainability-plus-usability umbrella to market their products. They point to the forests saved when books and articles by the hundreds can be loaded onto a single device. Barnes and Noble’s new Nook is the newest aspiring “Kindle killer.” At least half a dozen features Nook lists for the device on its FAQ sheet, such as “ergonomic back cover design for optimal hand fit,” point to the Nook designers’ awareness of ergonomics.
Apple’s iPhone has also entered the lists against Amazon.com’s Kindle, and a recent survey published in ComputerWorld magazine notes that it is quickly becoming the ebook reader of choice for many. The article doesn’t mention specific attributes that are giving the iPhone an edge, but it can be inferred that at least some of these are ergonomic features: iPhone has long scored points for efficiency and user comfort, for instance.
Even a perfunctory review of other new products would reveal many that can claim to be both eco- and user-friendly. But the list of new products that can claim user-friendliness in the wider ergonomic sense could be narrower.
Peter Budnick Ph.D., CPE, Ergoweb’s CEO, sees a need to ensure that usability is understood by designers in its fullest sense. Interviewed about World Usability Day-2009 in October by The Ergonomics Report™, a subscriber publication for professionals needing to stay abreast of ergonomics and human factors issues, he observed that "the people in the software world using the term ‘usability’ to describe what they do often restrict their focus to the software interface, neglecting the broader systems approach that’s inherent in ergonomics.”
“In other words,” said Dr. Budnick, “the software is only one component to how we interact with our computer devices. [It] falls into what we often call the cognitive side of ergonomics – the psychological interface between human and machine. This is very important, but the physical ergonomics related to the device can’t be overlooked."
Investing in software usability is certainly important, he added, “but I’d better also understand the physical ergonomics issues associated with usability. Ergonomics is a systems approach that recognizes and integrates the physical and psychological aspects of usability. Focusing on one aspect while ignoring or downplaying the other is a recipe for failure.”
Sources: Caspera Scientific; Barnes & Noble; Amazon.com; ComputerWorld; Dr. Peter Budnick