A Definition and Introduction to Ergonomics

Ergonomics, also called Human Factors, is concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their technological tools and environments. It takes account of the user’s capabilities and limitations in seeking to ensure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment suit each user.

Definition of Ergonomics

Ergonomics derives from two Greek words: ergon, meaning work, and nomoi, meaning natural laws, to create a word that means the science of work and a person’s relationship to that work.

The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) has adopted this technical definition: “ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” For simplicity, ergonomics makes things comfortable and efficient.

What Is the Study of Ergonomics?

It is the attempt to make work better that ergonomics becomes so useful. And that is also where making things comfortable and efficient comes into play.

Ergonomics is commonly thought of in terms of products. But it can be equally useful in the design of services or processes.

It is used in design in many complex ways. However, what you, or the user, is most concerned with is, “How can I use the product or service, will it meet my needs, and will I like using it?” Ergonomics helps define how it is used, how it meets your needs, and most importantly if you like it. It makes things comfy and efficient.

Domains of Ergonomics

The IEA divides ergonomics broadly into three domains:

Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomical, and some of the anthropometric, physiological and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity.

Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system. (Relevant topics include mental workload, decision-making, skilled performance, human-computer interaction, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system and Human-Computer Interaction design.)

Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of socio technical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes. (Relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design, design of working times, teamwork, participatory design, community ergonomics, cooperative work, new work programs, virtual organizations, telework, and quality management.

Five Aspects of Ergonomics

There are five aspects of ergonomics:

1. Safety: E.g. Medicine bottles — print sizes could be enlarged so those with impaired vision (due to sinus problems, for example) can more easily read the label instructions. Ergonomics can discover the optimum font style, color and size to enhance readability using the limited space available on a medicine label.

2. Comfort: E.g. Alarm clock display — some displays are harshly bright, drawing one’s eye to the light or keeping one awake when surroundings are dark. Ergonomic principles could redesign this based on contrast principles and include automatic dimming functions in low-light environments (such as when a user has turned off the room lights to sleep).

3. Ease of use: E.g. Street Signs — in an unfamiliar area, it can be quite difficult to spot street signs. This could be addressed by using principles of visual detection to make street signs more visible.

4. Productivity/performance: E.g. Office furniture/equipment — the use of ergonomically designed office furniture and equipment (such as office chairs and computer input devices) can drastically reduce work-related injuries and employee absences.

5. Aesthetics: E.g. Signs in the workplace — signage could be made more aesthetic by using a consistent format throughout the workplace.

You can refer to the following three textbooks for detailed information:

1. Introduction to Ergonomics-WHO-1972-eng

2. Introduction to Ergonomics, Second Edition-2003

3. Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics, Fourth Edition-CRC Press (2018)


1. An Introduction to Ergonomics


3. Human factors and ergonomics


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