User-centred design

The importance of ergonomics


Ergonomics is about ensuring a good fit between people and the things they interact with. This could include the objects they use or the environments they live in. You should consider ergonomics in the design of every product, system or environment.

You should focus on ergonomics early in the design process. Ignoring ergonomics can lead to designs that are likely to fail commercially - as they don't fit the needs of the user.

Importance of ergonomics

Ergonomics is an important part of research in the product development process. Its purpose is to increase the safety, comfort and performance of a product or an environment, such as an office.

Ergonomics uses anthropometrical data to determine the optimum size, shape and form of a product, and make it easier for people to use.

Ergonomists can help you to identify which user characteristics you should take into account during your design process. This is important when you consider how much individuals vary in terms of:

  • body size
  • body shape
  • strength
  • mobility
  • sensory sensitivity
  • mental ability
  • experience
  • training
  • culture
  • emotions

When you apply ergonomic methods early in the design process, they can often identify opportunities for innovation. Find out more about the user-centred design process.

Categories of ergonomics

There are three broad areas of ergonomics:

Physical ergonomics looks at how human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological and biomechanical characteristics relate to physical activity. This includes:

  • working postures
  • manual handling
  • repetitive movements
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • workplace layout and environment

Psychological ergonomics studies mental processes (eg perception, cognition, memory, reasoning and emotion) and how people interact with products, systems and environments. This includes:

  • mental workload
  • decision-making
  • human-computer interaction
  • human reliability
  • attitudes
  • stress
  • motivation
  • pleasure
  • cultural differences

Organisational ergonomics is about optimising the organisational structures, policies and processes of socio-technical systems. This includes:

  • communication
  • work design
  • staff resource management
  • working time patterns
  • co-operative work
  • quality management
  • organisational culture

To ensure that you keep your end users' needs in focus at all times, you should make ergonomists an integral part of your design development team.

Read also about the advantages of user-centred design and the advantages of inclusive design.